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Moll was a forceful, persistent resolute young girl who obtained her ways in most things. She was attractive and vain about her appearance and was easily convinced men were in love with her. She was afraid of becoming poor. Her theory was a young girl in poor circumstances had the right to find support as best she could. Defoe’s Moll Flanders novel depicts sex as a way to barter and exchange things in a mercantile society. If Mr. Defoe was writing in today’s society he would not find any difference between his 18th century and our 21st century. He would find the Hollywood crowd, was the same as the elite society in his day. The partying has not changed. Today, drugs are added to the partying. Grandparents are raising their Grandchildren the same as in Moll Flanders. Parents today do not want to take the responsibility of raising their own children. Moll did not want this either she wanted to just get money for herself.
According to Dawn Sova, Moll Flanders is subtitled “The fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, who was born in Newgate, and during a Life of continu’d Variety, for Threescore Years, besides her Childhood, was Twelve Year a Whore, five times a Wife (whereof once to her own Brother), Twelve Year a Thief, Eight Year a Transported Felon in Virginia, at last grew Rich, liv’d Honest, and died a Penitent.” The author relates in the preface this is a fictional story, a composite of real people who experience real events in Defoe’s London.
The novel itself is a heroine’s own scandalous sexual and criminal adventure, which keeps moralizing to a minimum. Defoe’s own attitude to his character is his fascination with moral uncertainty. Moll Flanders illustrates bluntly the kind of motives that rise to the surface in a human life under hardship and duress. The book generates the conflict between an absolute Christian morality and the conditional ethics and the human struggle for survival. Many of the descriptions given are tautly drawn because of Defoe’s personal experience with poverty and imprisonment. His confinement in Newgate prison provided him with first-hand knowledge of thieves and their techniques. (Harold Bloom) Defoe’s ongoing theme is that vanity is the force which prevails over virtue. It is vanity that determines Moll’s behavior in the first part of the book. Moll’s vanity facilitates her seduction by the elder brother and runs through her five marriages and numerous lovers. (Brackett)
It is a factor which precipitates her decision to steal rather than remain poor. In fact all of her actions are in some way related to her vanity. In “Onomaphobia and Personal Identity” (Butler) Moll tells us she is afraid of repercussions from her criminal buddies if she tells us her real name. She identifies people by their occupations, family roles, or social status. Proper names even today denote unique individuality and identity. Defoe should be commended for alerting us to the dependency of proper names. As a vain person Moll makes herself known as attractive in her appearance, as a wife, widow, and a woman of fortune. We still give personal identity to people today, movie stars, cooks, teachers, singers, doctors, and lawyers. These titles tell us the identity of people by the implied association. Identity plays a significant role in Moll’s pursuit of money, her desire to be a gentlewoman, and her desire to marry a rich man.
John Rietz seems to believe these this is what leads to her greed. This is the greed that also leads Moll to prostitution, thievery and moral disintegration. Moll sees people as commodities, her relationships as business transactions. Although in love with the elder brother she see’s nothing wrong with taking money for sex, accepts a bribe to marry his younger brother. She chooses husbands for social status, takes money for prostitution, and steals an item from a child and from people in distress. Moll seems to flourish in her life of crime and the lesson we learn from her is, to survive one must fight with the weapons one has. Mr. Rietz further states “Moll, whose relationships with men are more often pursued for financial gain than for love, either by baiting traps with the promise of sex or by legitimate (but still predatory) practice of gold – digging.” Moll Flanders is a figure whose sexuality heightens het “unplaceability” in a society which defines women by their relationship to men.
Molls actions according to Amit Yahav-Brown though seeming to be nothing more than “common-sensical” always involve elaborate calculation, like which of her suitors to favor. Because of her great greed she sought to marry a wealthy man. Her fear of poverty led her to commit many criminal acts. The question as to whether Moll ever really becomes a hardened criminal is an interesting one. We have seen that motivated by greed, she has been able to commit many criminal acts.
Mark Schorer says Moll Flanders comes to us professing that its purpose is to warn us not only against a life of crime, but against the cost of crime. Strip Moll Flanders of its bland loquacity, its comic excess, its excitement, and we have the revelation of a savage life, a life solely motivated solely by economic need, and a life that is measured at last by those creature comforts.
Moll argues for the moral acceptability of theft in the light of Locke’s concept of natural law. Although one can obtain property through one’s personal labor, no one is allowed to get more than one needs. Locke’s theory of natural law can be summarized as three principles (1) man’s right to self-preservations, (2) leaving enough for the preservation of others, and (3) the principle of not appropriating more than is needed. (John Z. Zhang) These three principles can be used to indicate how Moll justifies her stealing. Having stolen a necklace from a child, Moll reflects back on the incident: “The last affair left no great concern upon me, for as I did the poor child no harm. Actually, she repeats “I did the child no harm.” So since Moll has done the child no harm, and has only taken what is more than the child needs, she is observing the second principle of natural law, leaving enough for the preservation of others.
Eventually Moll gets caught in her stealing and gets sent to Newgate prison. The very name sends chills through her very being. This is the place where her mother had suffered so deeply, where she had been born, and where she feared she would die. The noise, the stench, and the crowd terribly distressed her. She reproached herself repeatedly for having continued her criminal activities.in spite of her many narrow escapes and her more than sufficient money. She did not reproach herself because she had sinned against God, but because she had been caught. Moll spent many days in prison with the constant fear of death. The longer she stayed the harder she became. “I degenerated into stone” (p218). Moll felt neither remorse nor repentance despite the fact, she was sure the verdict would be death. She had lost her heart with not thought for escape. While in this state, Moll saw her Lancashire husband Jemy. She became speechless at the sight of him, after seeing Jemy and getting sentenced to death for a felony, she entertains the desire to repent, lacking true moral persuasion these repentances are until the end half-hearted and insincere. After her sentence her governess becomes very upset and arranges for a minister to visit Moll, she spent two days telling him about her wicked life, Moll said, “It was now that for the first time, I felt any real signs of repentance. The word eternity represented itself with all its incomprehensible additions” (p 225).
While reading an article by Miller, Henry Knight, he wrote about Defoe being a Puritan (known as modern day Presbyterians). According to Miller they were centered in the Word of God. Defoe in writing Moll Flanders included the Moral History of Mankind, testing of the human soul, the ultimate awareness of sin, and seeking reconciliation with God. At the end Moll states, “For those who have served the World, the Flesh and the Devil: capture, judgment, and imprisonment, in that Emblem of Hell itself” (p 215). In the end, Moll reflects back on her existence, “I had a past life of a most wretched kind to account for, some of it in this world as well as in another” (p 148). One must observe this repentance is not a psychological phenomenon. It is rather a working in the soul. Moll Declares, “Ina word, I was perfectly changed, and become another body” (p221). Moll’s narrative portrays neither a stable family life nor secure economic conditions, and she regularly deals with the underworld that shadowed polite society. Defoe is able to portray the darker elements of society in which basic needs such as food and shelter overshadow (at least initially) religious and moral instruction. Ultimately, Defoe comes back to a specific idea of moral and religious conduct, which he believes must prevail even in desperate circumstances.
Admiration for Moll’s resourceful survival techniques is not intended to overshadow the rewards that come from true repentance at the end of the novel ( p 190). Srividhya Swaminathan
Moll returns to England at the age of seventy after her transportation to Virginia instead of her death. Moll and Jemy lived a happy confortable life together. Moll concludes her story: “We are now grown old: I am comeback to England, being almost seventy years of age, my husband sixty-eight, having performed much more than the limited terms of my transportation, and now, notwithstanding all the fatigues and all the miseries we both gone through, we are both of us in good heart and health. We resolve to spend the remainder of our years in sincere penitence for the wicked lives we have lived ( p267).
My closing remarks about the Moll Flanders, a book hard to read, but with an interesting lady, much like the women in today’s society. Defoe brings to life a story of a beautiful vain lady. She has a fear of poverty much like we do today. What do you think you would do in the same circumstances in which she found herself? I can relate to parts of her story because I have also lived parts of the story. We have also found ourselves fearful of poverty. She used her only attribute she had, her beauty to obtain security in life. She set goals (much like we do) in her drive to marry a rich man, and in her ruthless pursuit of money. The result used to achieve her goals led to the transformation of a beautiful young girl into a hardened middle-aged criminal. Throughout the book we see Moll’s dual nature, a penitent woman reproaching herself for her misdeeds, and a ruthless pursuer of ill-gotten gains.
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