Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair

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Becky Sharp is the central character in Vanity Fair and Amelia Sedley's opposite. She is the orphaned daughter of destitute parents, and she learns early on to look after her own interests in all situations. Becky values money and social status above all and is thoroughly corrupt in her pursuit of them. Her most well-known (though often doubted) observation is that for five thousand pounds a year, she could be a good woman. Selfish, unscrupulous, manipulative, and ambitious, she is capable of appearing sweet, mild, and even timid when it furthers her aims to do so.  Becky undoubtedly has courage, the true mark of a heroine. She has the audacity to chase after her goals instead of pacifying herself with mere dreams of money or grandeur. And when her winnings prove less satisfying than society had promised, she has the courage to admit she is unhappy. She does not cling to false ideals, like Amelia, or false hope, as Dobbin does. She is arguably the most immoral of the cast, but as Dorothy Van Ghent points out, Becky’s aptitude and spirit nearly redeem the emptiness of her goals and the moral repugnance of her actions: “Becky’s activities are designed with intelligent discrimination and lively intuition, and they are carried through not only with unflagging will power but with joy as well. By representing her world at its highest energetic potential, by alchemizing all its evil but stupid or confused or formless impulses into brilliantly controlled intention, she endows her world with meaning” (31). She has not only the courage to attempt the impossible, but also the resilience to keep trying after disappointments, to persevere in the face of defeat. Becky is a heroine without a cause, a knight forced to joust with plastic lances at a child’s carnival.

It may initially appear that Becky has made poor choices, but the deeper problem is that she was never given any choices. An honest appraisal of her options puts her immorality into perspective. Surely heroes...
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