Summary and Analysis
Becky's life, after Rawdon leaves her, consists at first in trying to stay respectable, but just when she has built up a new circle of friends, someone informs about her and she is left alone. She tries at first to get Sir Pitt to listen to her, but Wenham, Lord Steyne's man, has told Pitt too much about her.
Becky wanders about the Continent, fleeing creditors, gambling, and acting as boarding house queen. Vagabond blood flows in her veins. She writes her son once, when, on the death of Sir Pitt's only son, little Rawdon becomes the heir of Queen's Crawley. Little Rawdon is not impressed with his mother's attention; it comes too falsely and too late.
In Rome Becky sees Lord Steyne and hopes to regain his favor, remembering how her wit has amused him and what good fun they have had, but Steyne sends his man to threaten her with death. Steyne has been offended and he never forgets. He dies in 1830, much praised and lamented.
In the course of her travels Becky arrives at Brussels and remembers George, Amelia, and Joseph, and thinks, "they were kind simple people." And then, as the reader has seen, Becky meets Joseph and the others in Pumpernickel.
Joseph, as Becky has requested, goes to her hotel, a dirty refuge which suits Rebecca. She is on good terms with all there; they are her kind of people.
Becky convinces Jos that she has been wronged, that Rawdon and his family have torn her child from her, and that Jos was and is her first and only real love. Joseph goes home and convinces Amelia of Becky's innocence and need. Dobbin objects, never having been taken in by Becky. He says Amelia wasn't always fond of Becky referring to her jealousy over George. Angered, Amelia says she will never forgive him.
Triumphant, Becky moves in. Dobbin, after a last protest about letting Becky stay, reproves Amelia as not being worthy of his love and devotion. Much to Georgy's sorrow and Amelia's regret, Dobbin departs to join his regiment. Becky takes over Joseph's house, winning Amelia by praise of Major Dobbin. A couple of Becky's disreputable friends move in and connive to exploit Amelia. Although she has no idea of what they are planning, Amelia abhors them and writes to ask William Dobbin to come back.
That same day Becky decides she should protect Amelia and tells her that Joseph is too weak, that she should send for William. When Amelia starts the old line about her only being able to love George, Becky shows her the note George has written on the eve of Waterloo asking Becky to run away with him. Amelia cries — for many reasons — but she now feels free to love William.
In two days William returns to marry Amelia. Becky departs during the wedding days, returns and fastens herself on Joseph, and gets all his money. The last time William sees him, Joseph is both fascinated and terrified by Becky, but he won't leave her. Three months later he dies, the implication being that Becky has hastened his ruin as she did Rawdon's. Rawdon dies of yellow fever. Sir Pitt dies. Rawdon, Becky's son, inherits Queen's Crawley. The Dobbins, happy in marriage and their two children, George and Janey, live nearby and are friends of the family at Queen's Crawley.
None of them has anything to do with Rebecca, although her son makes her an allowance. She seems to have plenty of money, lives a respectable life, goes to church, and engages in all sorts of charities.
In this section all the story ends are tied together, and the reader knows what happens to all the main characters. Becky has achieved what she set out to do: occupy a booth in Vanity Fair. Her son owns Queen's Crawley where she went first as governess.
Dobbin has Amelia and a daughter, both of whom rejoice his heart. Amelia has married a gentleman, at last, and appreciates him. George, who might have grown up without conscience, without any standards but those of Vanity Fair, has learned from Dobbin that there are other values. Lady Jane has young Rawdon and her own child with Amelia as friend. Becky has destroyed both Rawdon and Joseph. She has played Clytemnestra twice, as Thackeray says. As she began with entangling Joseph in her silken thread, so she ends engaged in the same manner. The plot has rounded into a full circle.
Although the true winners in the book are those who do not have their souls for barter in Vanity Fair, yet Thackeray aliows Becky, his chief protagonist for Vanity Fair, to show some genuine feeling. For example, it is Becky who realizes that Dobbin is a gentleman in spite of his big feet; and it is she who brings Amelia to her senses in regard to her endless worship of George. Becky sees things clearly, uses everything to her advantage, but usually is honest with herself — and once in a while with Amelia and Dobbin.
Thackeray defends his method of presentation by saying that he has only hinted "at the existence of wickedness in a light, easy, and agreeable manner, so that nobody's fine feelings may be offended." He calls Becky "Clytemnestra" and "Circe", allusions that leave no doubt as to her character. He compares Becky to a siren or mermaid or monster. "When they sink into their native element, depend on it those mermaids are about no good, and we had best not examine the fiendish marine cannibals, reveling and feasting on their wretched pickled victims." Another figure describes Becky in her attempt to be considered respectable, to a drowning man who will hang on to anything so long as there is hope.
Thackeray compares lying to being in debt. If one lie comes due, the liar has to make up a new one to take the place of the old one. As time passes both the number of fibs and the danger of their detection increases.
Amelia tyrannizes Dobbin, Thackeray says, as if he were a dog. She makes him "fetch and carry," and he likes to jump when she speaks and "trot behind her with her reticule in his mouth."
Thackeray takes his analogies from many sources:
As the most hardened Arab that ever careered across the Desert over the hump of a dromedary, likes to repose sometimes under the date-trees by the water; or to come into the cities, walk in the bazaars, refresh himself in the baths, and say his prayers in the Mosques, before he goes out again marauding: Jos' tents and pilau were pleasant to his little Ishmaelite. She picketed her steed, hung up her weapons, and warmed herself comfortably by his fire. The halt in that roving, restless life was inexpressibly soothing and pleasant to her.
Thackeray's implication is that as soon as she becomes bored, she will go marauding again.
In a paragraph regarding Dobbin's victory, Thackeray calls Amelia a vessel, a prize, a bird, and a parasite:
The vessel is in port. He has got the prize he has been trying for all his life. The bird has come in at last. There it is with its head on his shoulder, billing and cooing close up to his heart, with soft outstretched fluttering wings . . . Grow green again, tender little parasite, round the rugged old oak to which you cling!
Examples of Thackeray's humor follow: When Joseph arrives to see Becky, she puts a rouge-pot, a brandy bottle, and a plate of broken meat into her bed. She sits on the bed to keep Joseph from sitting on the objects. When Becky begins to move around in her excitement about how Rawdon and his family have torn little Rawdy from her arms, "The brandy-bottle inside clinked up against the plate which held the cold sausage. Both were moved, no doubt, by the exhibition of so much grief."
Dobbin amuses himself with a cigar, "that pernicious vegetable." Becky mourns about Rawdy, but she eats "a very good dinner." After Dobbin has gone, Thackeray says, "As for Emmy, had she not done her duty? She had her picture of George for a consolation."
Some of Thackeray's observations on human nature are: "When a traveller talks to you perpetually about the splendour of his luggage, which he does not happen to have with him; my son, beware of that traveller! He is, ten to one, an imposter." — "She wished to give him nothing, but that he should give her all. It is a bargain not infrequently levied in love."
As Thackeray made allowances for Lord Steyne's depravity, he excuses Becky, "She was of a wild, roving nature, inherited from father and mother, who were both Bohemians by taste and circumstance. . ." And Dobbin, an honest gentleman to the last, tells Becky when he objects to her staying at Joseph's house, "I beg your pardon, ma'am, but I am bound to tell you that it is not as your friend that I am come here now." And Becky respects him for his honesty.