Critical Essays Symbolism in Vanity Fair


Thackeray takes symbols from everyday life, from the classics, and from the Bible. He shows Rebecca ensnaring Joseph in a tangle of green silk, at their first acquaintance. As Becky climbs the social stairway, she is likened to a spider. At the close of the book, she has literally entangled and destroyed Joseph just as a spider would its victim. She sucked his money, his vitality, his personality from him. She did not reduce Rawdon to such a shell, but she played Delilah to his Samson.

At the charade party Rebecca plays Clytemnestra, symbolic of her destruction first of Rawdon, second of Joseph. (Clytemnestra killed her husband, Agamemnon, when her lover's courage failed.) Rebecca is also called Circe, the siren who lured men to their death. Sir Pitt refers to the Bute Crawleys as Beauty and the Beast, a symbolic hint that Bute has married a battle-axe, which he has.

The Osborne household keeps time by a clock representing the sacrifice of Iphigenia. Iphigenia, daughter of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon, was sacrificed by her father for success in war, another route to power and position. Old Osborne tries to sacrifice George to a marriage for money; he destroys Miss Jane's one romance for his own selfish convenience. The Iphigenia clock, then, symbolizes the complete subordination of the Osbornes to money and social success.

Amelia's giving up Georgy is compared to Hannah's giving up Samuel. The Bible story has religious significance; Hannah gives up her son to the Lord. In Vanity Fair, Amelia, though she is not of Vanity Fair, surrenders her son to advantages that money and position can provide. The symbol here may be ironic.

Back to Top