The plot appears complex because of the multitude of characters and because the stated motives are seldom the true ones. Moreover, the author digresses so often in essays on related subjects that the casual reader may lose the thread of the story.
The story, however, is as modern as tomorrow — the struggle to establish oneself in society. Whereas the tale seems disjointed and diverse, it is held together by the one theme: the foibles and deceptions of the inhabitants of Vanity Fair. No matter how minor a character, Thackeray identifies that person — perhaps by the significance of his name only — as living or not living in Vanity Fair. This continuous focus on human nature in all aspects from motherhood to death, from poverty to prosperity, makes the plot both probable and unified.
The conflict is always man against man for the joys and advantages of Vanity Fair. There is little soul-searching. The reader does not often enter the minds of the characters. He watches what they do, he hears what the author tells about them, and then with some direct prompting from the author, judges them. Any conflict with nature is conflict with human nature.
Thackeray wishes to impress on the reader the futility of Vanity Fair but he does not underestimate its values either. He admits that roast beef is good, although it vanishes like all pleasures of Vanity Fair. He points out the duplicity, the dishonesty, the double crossing of human beings all under the guise of doing good, being neighborly, or saving souls; but actually the purpose is to get money or position or advantage.
Most of the characters bow down to wealth and position regardless of the persons who have them. This worship of false values makes it possible for Rebecca to climb to the top, and if she had possessed sufficient money she would not have fallen on account of the discovery of her affair with Lord Steyne. For, although citizens of Vanity Fair may have a low opinion of the morals of their leading personages, this scruple will not deter them from attending balls, dinners, or any affair where one may get a free meal or sit beside nobility.