Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Vanity Fair: A Novel Without a Hero

I have finally completed what will probably be the biggest accomplishment of my life. I finished reading Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray.

My reading journey through this book began a mere FIVE MONTHS ago. My brother and I had just survived the Fall semester finals at our college, and knew that we would have enough free time to begin a new novel. We both decided to have a race through an 800 page book, to see who was the fastest reader. I picked Vanity Fair, and he picked The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne, which is the sequel to A Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. I swore that I would finish my book before he could. I am so glad we did not place any stakes on the bet. He finished his book weeks before I did.

Vanity Fair: A Novel Without a Hero describes many characters who could not really be considered heroes, because of their failings, but who still find ways to connect to the readers' hearts. Comparisons and contrasts between characters show the reader just how imperfect each person is. I appreciated the contrasts between the two female leads, Amelia Sedley and Rebecca Sharp.

Rebecca Sharp is a cold creature who never stops thinking of ways to manipulate people for her personal gain. One cannot completely dislike her character, though, because she is very witty and entertaining. On the other hand, Amelia Sedley is loyal to everyone she comes in contact with, whether her loyalty is deserved or not. One cannot fully respect Amelia's character, however, because she does not have the discernment to tell between friend or foe. Amelia Sedley is Rebecca's truest friend, and remains her friend through a good portion of the book. When Rebecca greedily attempts to take Amelia's husband from her, Amelia ends their friendship, only to renew it later in the book, because she cannot think ill of anyone for long.

Most important of all differences between Rebecca and Amelia is the way they treat the loved ones in their lives. Rebecca Sharp was fond of her husband, but abused him by putting her social life first, and by procuring money from others in a less than savory way, without letting her husband help with the burden of supporting the family. Amelia Sedley idolized her husband, and depended solely on him as her source of happiness. She became ill whenever she thought of the possibility of their separation. In these two women's marriages, we see the problems both of being too independent, and of being entirely too dependent on their spouses.

Rebecca and Amelia also treated their sons differently. Rebecca was much too harsh with her son; only deigning to show maternal love when others were present to view it. She saw mothering as a waste of her talents, and preferred to attend countless parties, as she did before her son's birth. This lack of affection from his mother caused little Rawdon great grief, and he turned to the nanny instead for love. In contrast, it can be said that Amelia loved her son too much, even to the point where she would not discipline him. Her son Georgy quickly learned that he was better than everyone else, because that was what his mother told him. He grew very pretentious and snobby. All of this came from a sense of entitlement that his mother raised him to feel.

As in their marriages, I see the contrast of the two parenting styles, and I understand the need for a balance between the two extremes. Both Amelia Sedley and Rebecca Sharp are so very different, and neither can be respected as true heroines of the novel, which leads us to the subtitle: A Novel without a Hero.

The concept of a main character being unworthy of being called a hero was a rather novel idea in the Victorian age. Makepeace Thackeray was commended on exploring this idea in his novel. I would like to disagree with his subtitle, however, because I believe that there is a hero in Vanity Fair. His name is William Dobbin.

William Dobbin is the most loyal of all characters in Vanity Fair, while still being wary of Rebecca Sharp's wiles. He cared for Amelia Sedley deeply, but did not pursue her, because she was engaged to his best friend. This act of self-denial makes him the martyr of this book, waiting over eighteen years for Amelia to return his love. He respects Amelia's love for his best friend, and remains her protector through her whole life. Even while she did not love him, Dobbin supported Amelia and her family during their darkest hours of debt. Rebecca Sharp herself commends Dobbin, and attempts to catch him for herself, knowing that he was the best gentleman around. Rebecca is rejected, however, because Dobbin sees through her guise, and openly calls her a snake. Dobbin fights admirably in several battles and rises in the ranks, but remains humble, and never speaks about himself. Because he is a loyal friend, respectful lover, valiant soldier, and humble man, William Dobbin is the hero of the Novel Without a Hero.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Have I Been in the Same Place Too Long?

This past semester at my college, I got into a comfortable routine. I went to the bookstore cafe at my college at least twice a week. At every visit, I ordered a tall coffee and a venti ice water. I would try to time it just right so I could get a discount from the barista who didn't feel right charging me for tap water. Always returning to the same Starbucks week after week had a comforting familiarity to it. That is, until last week.

On my brother's last day of finals I lined up behind another Starbuck's customer, who was taking rather a long time chatting with her barista. I stood there patiently for ten minutes before my regular barista noticed me and asked, "Tall coffee and a large ice water? And room for cream, right?"

Uh oh.

Have I really been here long enough to have a 'usual'? I have seen people on TV order their 'usuals' all the time, but I never thought I would be one of them. At first I was flattered that someone actually remembered my order, but then I started feeling a little apprehensive.

A butterfly flits from place to place, never staying on the same flower for very long, and I feel like I have been that butterfly for years. Rarely have I stayed in the same place for more than two years. Recently I started noticing all of the roots I have put down here. A quick look at my calendar reveals that, yes, I have been living in the same place for just over two years.

Staying in the same place might be scary to me, but it is where God wants me to be right now, because I can feel, deep down, that I am doing a good work where I am. I cannot let my crazy antsy feelings get in the way of God's work.

That being said, I am still ecstatic to be transferring to a new school this coming fall. :)

Friday, May 6, 2011

How Many College Students Does It Take...

How many college students does it take to change a baby’s diaper? Answer: Three.

After lunch, I stepped outside towards the auditorium where the student government meeting would take place. On the way to the auditorium, I noticed a stroller parked outside. Babies on campus always catch my interest, because there are so few of them. Most college students opt to leave their babies or children in the college day care, but the economy is becoming such that fewer college students are able to afford child care. I think day cares will see less business as mothers choose to place their children in the care of friends or family while in class. But I digress.

As I walked by the stroller, I noticed that three college students were sitting on or around one small park bench. They were all huddled around one central figure: a baby, lying on her back, waiting for her diaper change to be over. One female college student pulled the sticky straps across the diaper. “There,” she declared triumphantly. Immediately her male friend shooed her away and insisted that the baby’s diaper was too tight. The third college student must have already tried and given up, because she sat quietly beside the baby, browsing on her cell phone.

Having kids, while also attending college, is tough. I applaud the students at my college that are determined to get high grades regardless of what their home situation is like. I am especially proud of the friends of young parents, who help to raise the children, even if it is only one diaper at a time.