Moll flanders Essay

Moll Flanders is born to a convicted mother due to be hanged, thereby lacking the necessary support system to establish an adequate support system, something that is particularly essential for women during the time. Moll was raised by her foster grandmother and was later o forced to serve as a maid as employment for women was very limited during this era.

England, at the time, was currently undergoing a transformation towards becoming a nation that upholds the rights of property. The era is marked with an increasing interest on capitalism which explains the people’s fixation on the increasing value of their property. The capitalistic trade was also associated with marriage customs as women have no legal means to support themselves and would have to depend on their fathers and later on, their husbands for their daily needs.

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 Marriage is seen as a financial move to increase one’s fortunes and at minimum, keep the woman with a roof over her head and bread on the table so to speak. This dependence on men underlies Molly’s decisions to marry for money and she evaluates her net worth after her several affairs and subsequent marriages. The sexual attractiveness of women serves as their main asset in acquiring a satisfactory marriage arrangement and when Moll loses this precious asset due to the passage of time, she was forced to turn to a life of crime.  In this novel, the body of the female specie is a representation of capital as it is the asset that women use to be able to earn their keep.

The 17th century was characterized by cheap labor and inexpensive materials. As it was the era before industrialization, production requires a great amount of labor. England was undergoing a transition from a pre-capitalist society to a capitalist society, from an anti-usury policy to one of placing an interest on money that is borrowed or loaned. Thievery and pick pocketing served as a means to get rich in an easy manner. For women, prostitution was also one avenue that could bring about certain income and profits. This was particularly true during the 17th to 18th centuries as poor women were forced to prostitution due to the ineffective social system and the secondary rights afforded to women.

Moll uses her beauty, passivity and wit to gain something from the men she encounters. As her sexual attractiveness and beauty fades, she turns to robbery and pick-pocketing as a means of income. We then derive that Moll is forced into these circumstances when she was unable to find a man who would stay permanently to support her. She too is aware of the fact that finding a husband is necessary to stay out from a life of poverty.

            Criminality can have several faces and does not only mean to break or disregard the law. Criminality may also mean the violation of moral codes and going against the status quo. After her last husband’s death, Moll was forced to the streets, a place that has a significant impact on the character of Moll Flanders as it served as the main driving force for the her actions and decisions later on. Moll was left alone and vulnerable, with no money and no friends to run to for help and assistance. As she states in the novel, she feels that her “heart would sink within me at the inevitable approach of misery and want.” In this part of the novel, Moll was portrayed as a totally helpless individual to the circumstances. This is the time she resorts to theft and thievery. She started to lose control in her life and stealing now became a habit instead of merely a necessity. The novel contains several of Moll’s justification regarding her actions and pleads to the reader’s sympathy for her situation.

            It should be understood however, that for Moll, the ultimate crime is poverty and she believes that theft and thievery is justified to prevent her from experiencing poverty. Her actions, therefore, stem from her need to maintain and keep up her outward appearance to the society. At some certain point, Moll has also lost compassion for her victims and she was described as to have removed any remorse for her crimes.

Some may say that she is merely a survivor attempting to succeed in this world. On the other hand, Moll also proves to be full of cunning and intelligence as she has the essential capacity for deception. As she began to live a life rooted in crime, she is fated to come back to her birthplace: Newgate prison. It was only during her conviction to the death penalty that she started to show signs of remorse however, this is contradicted by living without guilt on the fruits of her crime when her supposed execution was lifted.

            We can therefore say that the social structure at the time places primary importance on financial and economic success of individuals. Even Marriage, which is supposed to be a bond of love, trust and loyalty between two individuals is merely viewed as a financial contract between two consenting individuals who aim to increase their own fortunes through the partnership. Women use their beauty, youth and sexuality as capital to ensure a comfortable life. Many people however, who have fallen to the hard times had no option but to live a life of crime.

            Moll’s attitude throughout the novel exhibits a lack in morals. She sought to gain money and financial success through engaging in a marriage of convenience, becoming a man’s mistress and whore and resorting to thievery instead of looking for honest work as she can gain more profits from the former.


Defoe, Daniel (1993). Moll Flanders. Great Britain: Mackays of Chatham plc, Chatham, Kent. Wordsworth Edition

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