The Fortunes & Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe is a novel that already includes the main plot in the title since it tells about the whirlwind life of a criminal – Moll Flanders. Written as a collection of Moll’s memories, the novel follows the main character through her rocky life of being a wife for five times, twelve years of being the lady of the evening, a thief, and a felon who managed to become rich and repent for her sins on the deathbed. Because the story is told from the perspective of the main character, the literate devices, and tone that will be explored bears particular importance to the composition and the story’s imagery.
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Moll Flanders as the Narrator
Upon examining the excerpt from Moll Flanders, it becomes quite clear that the narrator is the main character that tells the story of her life (Gallagher 2006, p. 145). The episode described in the excerpt mentions the sickness and death of Moll’s “mother I rather to call”, who was very poor and had no one to take care of her funeral. The episode is striking for its sincerity in describing poverty: “there is no great bustle in putting an end to a poor body’s family when once they are carried to the grave” (Defoe p. 10). It is evident that Moll chose the path of ‘sin’ not because she was bored of regular life, she became a criminal because she had no money to feed herself and to live according to the moral standards of human life.
The simplicity with which Moll tells about her misfortunes creates an essence of honesty and trust between her and the reader, while, in fact, as a criminal Moll should not have prompted any credence for her thoughts and actions. As Moll “turned out of doors to the wide world” (Defoe 2014, p. 11) she saw no other choice than becoming a thief to eat and to live. Some may think that there is also a choice of a fair living and earning money in a lawful way, but if Moll became a law-abiding woman, her story would not have been as compelling.
In her storytelling, Moll called herself a “poor gentlewoman” (Defoe 2014, p. 11), which is paradoxical to her behavior as well as actions she made in her life. For example, in the excerpt, Moll was ready to become a servant for a “generous mistress” just to have something to eat. Moll was willing to abandon the perception of herself like a gentlewoman to serve other people for a piece of bread. Moll described her mistress with epithets like poor, generous, and honest, who makes up a character of a kind woman with no ill will on her mind; however, although Moll was poor, in her life she was far from being obedient.
To conclude, Moll Flanders as a narrator is simple and blunt in her expressions, which indicates that she does not worry about others judging her. Her moral compass does not coincide with the general principles of life, which, to some, may plant some doubts about her being a reliable narrator. However, despite the fact that there is a possibility that Moll could be lying in her narration, the simplicity with which she describes her life is strikingly sincere.
The Tone of the Narrative
The tone of the novel goes hand-in-hand with the first person narrative of the story, which is told from a point of views of a promiscuous woman that has no moral boundaries. Readers can immediately identify her character through her blunt way of speaking. In the excerpt, Moll was a little under fifteen years old and already spoke in an open and blunt manner: “I was frighted out of my wits” (Defoe 2014, p. 11). Moll’s usage of language is evidence for her treating the life the same way life treated her – no sugarcoating, when she was frightened, she stated so. There is a social context of poverty intertwined into the tone of the novel since Moll had no other option than to recognise herself as poor and that no one can set her free from poverty except for herself.
The tone of honesty to the reader is completely opposite to the way Moll treated other people in her life, for example, she only chose husbands if they had a higher social status to feed off his money. The readers should not forget that despite how honest in her storytelling Moll is, she is a known criminal that managed to deceive many people on her life path. Therefore, there should always be a suspicion towards Moll’s words, despite her trying to reinforce her honesty. Moll was only a “gentlewoman” when she needed to be vulnerable to take advantage from other people since there is nothing in her character and personality that can be associated with the epithet “gentle”. There is also a nod towards ruining a stereotype of criminals that were predominantly men at the time of the story’s setting.
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Personal and Social Themes
As seen from the analysed excerpt, one of the main themes in the novel is poverty. Poverty was the primary point that put her towards the life of crime. The choice of crime as the main source of income to battle poverty is the main choice that was made by many people in the 18th century due to the complicated social background. Therefore, Moll’s story is a great example of a criminal of that time that was forced to live the life of fraud by the social environment that did not leave any other options. Therefore, the reader should not judge Moll in a harsh manner since she was the main protagonist in the battle against poverty, which was imposed on the poor from the society.
The theme of greed is the one that goes along with the theme of poverty. Because Moll was left alone without any money when she was fourteen years old; therefore, from a relatively early age, Moll faced the fear of poverty and overcompensated it with greed for more and more wealth. In the excerpt upon analysis, there is Moll mentioning how much money exactly she had – two-and-twenty shillings. The attention to how little money Moll had when she was a child resonated with how much money she wanted to have when she became a grown adult. In m opinion, Moll’s greed was completely based on her childhood in poverty which forced her to turn to the path of crime.
The theme of vanity is quite complicated to analyse on the basis of the excerpt. However, it is worth mentioning since it also correlates with the themes of poverty and greed. While greed originated on the basis of poverty, it can be stated that vanity can easily stem from greed. Moll’s vanity was what drove her criminal acts forward it is what made her wanting more. As a child Moll was constantly complimented for her looks, so he took great advantage of her beautiful appearance to marry wealthy men, to get money for pleasuring other men, as well as to fool others and commit crimes.
When telling her story, Moll sometimes moralised about how she was afraid to become poor again, how she wanted to get more money, how she married wealthy men, and how she committed the crime. In her opinion, if the country made sure to provide appropriate conditions for the poor, she would not have been forced to live the life of crime. Therefore, Moll thought that a young girl that lived in poverty had to do anything in her power to support herself. She feared poverty and thus pursued her main aim of living a financially secure life (CliffsNotes n.d., para. 2).
Moll’s Appeal as a Character
Even upon examining a short excerpt from the book it can be stated that Moll’s character is very appealing on the personal level for the readers. She is blunt and admitting of her guilt in many crimes she committed. Inevitably, readers become involved in a certain form of literary judgement. Moll talked about herself as “daughter removed from all the goods” that had to do anything in her power to “bit of bread to eat” (Defoe 2014, p. 11).
For many, Moll is a character that was able to articulate what many criminals think and go through, despite criminals being a group of people usually deemed excluded and inappropriate in the society. Additionally, the outrageous moral practices adopted by Moll on her life journey made possible for Daniel Defoe to speak about important topics such as law and justice in a humorous manner and therefore greatly entertain the readers of the novel (Swan n.d., p. 9).
In my opinion, Moll Flanders is a character that provided crime a human nature that can be understood and sympathised for. The novel’s author makes a suggestion that is very easy to dismiss criminals as individuals and punish them for their crimes without getting to know why had they turned to the life of crime. In case of Moll, her poverty-stricken childhood caused her to fight for her life and become a criminal.
Born to be an outsider, Moll did not see any chance for her to establish herself as an accomplished individual apart from committing unlawful acts. Despite this, readers recognise her as a person that went through her ups and downs, loved and lost, had many positive character traits but was capable of committing crime because of her moral weakness. In many ways, Moll Flanders is a person that is like any other people and is therefore very likable for the reader.
The analysed excerpt from the novel depicted Moll as a young girl left alone in the wide world, forced to become a servant to feed herself. The episode is crucial for understanding the main themes of poverty, greed, and vanity that will later prevail in the novel. Poor childhood is what made Moll become a criminal; however, it is very hard for a reader to judge her for it.
CliffNotes n.d., Moll Flanders – Daniel Defoe. Web.
Defoe, D 2014, The fortunes and misfortunes of the famous Moll Flanders, Lerner Publishing Group, Inc., Minneapolis.
Gallagher, N 2006, ‘Point of view and narrative form in Moll Flanders and the eighteenth-century secret history’, Selected Proceedings from the Canadian Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, vol. 25, pp. 145-161.
Swan, B n.d., Moll Flanders English Lecture. Web.