[is] a novel in which character is everything and is given the freest play" (E. M. Forster). Bearing this quote in mind, discuss Defoe's representation of Moll Flanders.
In Daniel Defoe's novel, Moll Flanders, "
character is everything and is given the freest play." This quote by E. M. Forster aptly sums up the essence of Moll Flanders. This story is highly character driven; the character, Moll Flanders is the story. Thus, in the novel we are exposed to information and incidents concerning such a person more than to a story developed through a plot. In addition, we see that Flanders has ultimate authority in this story; it is she who has supreme power over everything and as such is allowed to control her own destiny she is given the "freest play", as suggested by Forster. Having read the story, one is hard pressed in deciding what conclusions to draw about this character, as Defoe's varied and contradictory representation of Flanders leaves in ones mind a number of unanswered questions. Some such questions include, who exactly is Moll Flanders? What motivates her? How do we come to know and understand her, her psyche? This essay seeks to answer some of these and other questions, based on Defoe's representation of Moll Flanders.
Defoe's first introduction of Moll Flanders is her being born to a prison inmate, so imprisoned for theft. This leaves her to the mercy of public charity, which is to shape her very existence. We watch Flanders grow and blossom into a beautiful and attractive young woman. She is a quick learner and easily adapts to her circumstances. From an early age, however, Defoe shrouds her with a trait of vanity; a vice, which is to be her downfall. She, although learned in cultured behavior, is naïve as well as vain. Needless to say these are two traits that do not work well together. As a result of her vanity and naïveté she falls prey to the seduction of an older guy who later abandons her and forces
her (albeit, not physically) to marry his younger brother. This was to be her first lesson in human nature and the handling of men.
The entire story of Moll Flanders is communicated to us through her voice. Thus, we meet her both as the narrator and the protagonist. Defoe's presentation of Moll in this way adds credibility to her character. She tells us of her numerous escapades without dressing up or covering up anything. She makes no attempt to hide who she is; neither does she mask any of her degenerate activities. In fact, Moll describes herself as a, "
a very sober, modest, and virtuous young woman" (Moll Flanders 1683, p.9). This declaration is in fact quite debatable, as Molls actions, to be demonstrated later in this piece will illustrate. We are given first hand knowledge of her errs in judgment as well as the flaws in her character. This endears her to us, as I believe was Defoe's intention.
Moll Flanders, having been born to poverty, is understandably fearful of being left to the whim of society and to fend for herself. She is also strongly desirous of becoming a wife, or rather of procuring for herself a husband. Her testimony of virtue is strengthened when she adamantly refuses to marry one brother being that she has already promised, and do consider herself, to be the wife of another. This causes her to struggle with what she knows of herself to be true and what the man that she loves is beseeching her to do. "At last I ask him warmly, what opinion he must have of my modesty, that he could suppose I should so much as entertain a thought of lying with two brothers, and assured
him it could never be
I could never entertain a thought so dishonourable to myself and so base to him
" (Moll Flanders, p.25)
Defoe creates for us in this instance a woman with strong moral values. Her values, however, are somewhat influenced by her naïveté. Her value system is later threatened when she must decide upon which course of action to take. Should she continue to...
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