Perhaps Becky is rather naive, then. You would certainly never think it at first - she proves that she's adept in sexual trickery during the very early stages of the book - but emotionally naivety can be hard to detect.
Yet a lot of the signs point to her thinking she has the upper hand, just before it all comes crashing down on her head - Lord Steyne's "favours" are a case in point. If Rebecca had had any foresight or emotional knowledge she would have realised that this was the inevitable consequence of such "blackmail" and perhaps she would have abstained.
It could even be said that Lord Steyne - whose very name sounds dirty - led her astray certainly, the time when she starts getting friendly with Lord Steyne is when the reader's view of her turns around. Lord Steyne comes across as a very nasty sort of character: his insensitive and irrational dislike of Rawdon; his lecherous nature; his admiration of Becky for her scheming ways; and, maybe most tellingly, his quickness to abandon a cohort when everything goes spectacularly wrong, in a "rats leaving the sinking ship" manner. He truly is, as Rawdon says, a "coward and villain", and maybe more "evil" than Becky.
Is Rawdon the "good road" that Becky should have taken? Rawdon, whilst coming as a cad and a rogue towards the start of the novel, becomes increasingly like the victim. The letters between Rawdon and Becky are a good example of this - Rawdon comes across as loveable and dependent, and his poor spelling heightens this. In contrast, Becky's letter back is consistently patronising, sarcastic and frequently uses French, which insults Rawdon's intelligence even more. You can only feel pity for the poor fellow after receiving this stinging missive from his own wife.
Lady Jane, who is the most faultless example of a good character in the book, likes Rawdon and dislikes Becky. We know from her that Thackeray wrote victims into his novels to make the readers feel pity for the "underdog" and like their character.
The way Rawdon and Becky dramatically split apart at the end suggests that Becky has changed in some way.
Rebecca does have a certain Machiavellian charm about her, which is probably mostly due to her sense of humour, and the way the reader subconsciously places her next to Amelia, who is thoroughly soppy and inclined to be overly sentimental. Compare this to Becky, who is always either flirting or exerting another form of control over the men around her. While Amelia seems weak, Becky seems strong, and her character is almost overpowering. Why Thackeray chose to make the most seemingly "bad" character the most likeable is an enigma. Perhaps he was supporting her. However, it seems to me that he was trying to get the reader to sympathise with - and pity - her.
In forsaking her child, she hits a raw nerve in the reader's psyche -namely the traditional stereotype of the female as the housewife who looks after the children. Amelia conforms to this stereotype, and her child is smothered by her overzealous caring - does this suggest that Thackeray was against it? This stereotype is still very much in place today - although the trend of women who, like Becky, prize success above family is growing, many of them are still vindicated as Becky was. Back in the nineteenth century a lot of the same sort of thing did go on - although it was rather more Rebecca-style social climbing than the high- flying female executives of today - but society at large didn't want to face up to the reality of their corrupt world and so became obsessed with the stay-at-home female stereotype. Imagine the outrage, then, when Thackeray unveiled Vanity Fair to the same morally vacant society that was described in his book - and worse, made the heroine, who embodied everything that society secretly was but pretended to hate, seem human, even likeable. The reader is forced at gunpoint to sympathise with her, and in the end the reader feels almost guilty for initially liking her character. The book got out to an even wider audience than it would usually because of its monthly format, which would enable people who were poor to afford some, if not all, of the book, and it meant that Thackeray could get quick feedback on the characters.
Could Becky be considered feminist for the nineteenth century, then?
She certainly has some of the attributes of one - the willingness to buck society's trends, the strong personality, et cetera. But I'm not sure that Thackeray meant to paint that picture of her - if he had been trying to make her a character to be admired, he would probably have reduced the amount of things she did which were completely indefensible (the times she toys with people's emotions for no real gain-just for the fun of it, or for "practise", an example being her unnecessary and insensitive flirting with Amelia's husband George), and the ending would have favoured her more. Thackeray portrays her as abusing her sexuality rather than fighting for equality. He portrays her towards the end as quite a weak creature: for instance, during the Lord Steyne affair she is entirely carried along by him and is out of control of him. She is mostly dependent on other people's money and status, he means her to seen quite a tragic figure, rather than someone to be admired or vindicated.
Lady Jane seems to have been set up as the "model woman". She's quite enraptured with little Rawdon - as she seems to be of all children, telling them stories around her knees; one likes to think they would ail be curled up around an open fire. Becky hates her for her virtue:
''That sort of goodness and simplicity which Lady Jane possessed annoyed our friend Becky'' - but Lady Jane turns the other cheek and gains the reader's sympathy by being intimidated by the "bad angel" Becky.
It seems to me that Becky may be a person to be pitied rather than vindicated. The victim of a restrictive, discriminatory, hypocritical and amoral society strikes out at it without realising she's doing so, and because of that same failure to realise is vindicated and looked down on. Yet Becky made a surprisingly good go at "playing the system" - it only collapsed right at the very end, perhaps inevitably. Still, her goals are never achieved in the end.
In conclusion, then: Selfish? Certainly. The way she marries, remarries for her benefit only is ample proof of that in itself. Add to this the numerous examples of her abusing her sexuality for her own ends and the way she regards Rawdon as something slightly below an accomplice and there's solid evidence that she was indeed very selfish. Destructive? Certainly she was apathetic towards other people's cares and most of all their emotions. The fact that the question of whether she murdered Jos even comes up is evidence that she was destructive enough to be suspected of murder. I'm unclear as to whether she actually did it or not - there seems to be a lack of evidence, but I'm sure she would be capable of it.
Whether she was evil is the true crux of the matter. Despite my confirmation of the first two ills, I feel that Rebecca can be forgiven a lot of her behaviour (some of which was appalling) because of the way she seems to understand so little of what she's doing. It would be very hard to do the evil she does in cold blood. I believe she genuinely isn't aware of the way she hurts people. Her emotional naivety leads her to regard emotions as worthless, possibly because he has never experienced emotions like the rest of the world has. She seems to have emotional experience and knowledge at the same level as a small child.
I would speculate that the reason she seems to have no conscience or morals is because she genuinely doesn't. Her psychological morals and conscience/guilt system has not developed properly, and she tries to make sense and succeed in the world around her without it - it's no surprise that her world collapses around her at the end. I am inclined to see Becky as the not-so-innocent victim of a society which couldn't admit its own flaws, and quite a tragic figure as well, as she was something of an omen for the future in Thackeray's eyes - "everyone will be like this if society does not reform".