What is the main theme of the novel Pamela?

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The main theme of Pamela centers on the virtue and humility of lower-class individuals triumphing over aristocratic immorality. The novel portrays the protagonist, Pamela, a handmaid, as embodying virtues that challenge and ultimately prevail over the corrupt morals of the higher social classes. Themes of social class, morality, and the role of women intertwine, showing how Pamela’s integrity and humble origins lead to her unexpected rise, reflecting Richardson's critique of seventeenth-century aristocratic values.

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Richardson's negative attitude toward aristocratic traditions of the seventeenth century and his democratic affinities find particular expression in the fact that he made the protagonist of his novel Pamela a simple handmaid. Richardson also entered into polemics with the picaresque and adventure novel, showing a radically different way of advancement for those belonging to the lower classes. It is a way of virtue rooted in humility, which becomes one of the central themes of the novel.

The psychological aspect of the main conflict in the novel is closely linked to social and ethical factors. Pamela and the squire are in opposition to one another as representatives of dissimilar social classes and moral codes. Ultimately, "folksy" virtues triumph over aristocratic vice in the novel.

While criticizing the nobles' immorality and praising the simple girl's integrity, Richardson, however, does not go so far as to infringe on the morals of his society. Pamela is a prime example of the humility that produces virtue. Richardson believes that humility is the best adornment for those who belong to the lower classes. Both Pamela and her family are so humble as to find in her being married to the squire an unheard-of reward for all the humiliating offenses that she has suffered because of him.

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It probably isn't possible for a single, main theme to be agreed upon by all readers for this book. This is because various themes are tightly woven together in this book, and certain themes shouldn't be discussed without at least discussing correlating themes. For example, love, sex, and marriage are all thematically important to this story; however, it is tough to discuss those without at least briefly touching upon social class and gender roles.

For example, Mr. B believes that Pamela should be available for his sexual conquests because that is what women are for. He especially believes that because Pamela is his servant rather than his equal; therefore, the book thematically shows what struggles lower class women had to deal with. The story eventually sees Mr. B and Pamela getting married for love because the marriage most definitely does not help Mr. B's social class movement. He's rich, but his union doesn't reflect that marriage's purpose at that time was to produce children and secure more family wealth.

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One of the main themes of Pamela is the importance of virtue in contemporary society, especially for women. At the same time, Richardson's presentation of virtue is all the more fascinating for being ambiguous. On the face of it, Pamela epitomizes all the virtues that were expected of respectable young ladies at the time. Yet in her desire to rise above what she sees as the indignity of manual labor, Pamela is confronted by a number of moral quandaries that challenge the feminine virtues that she's so anxious to preserve.

As she rises up the social ladder, Pamela finds it all the more difficult to live up to the rules of conduct that she and all other respectable women are expected to follow. She continues to insist on her virtue and her chastity, yet the tone of her letters is too vulgar, too detailed to convince us in this regard. Pamela's frequent references to hiding her parents' letters in her bosom would appear to attest to this.

Writing Pamela as an epistolary novel—one based upon a series of letters—allows Richardson to subvert the dominant conception of feminine virtue. Just as the behavior of women often challenged society's expectations, the substance of Pamela's letters subtly undercuts the respectable form in which they are written. The epistolary novel form gives Richardson considerable freedom to explore in depth the significant gap between ideal and reality in relation to women's virtue.

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