Moll Flanders, Madame Bovary, & The Joys of Motherhood
Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders, Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary, and Buchi Emecheta's The Joys of Motherhood are three novels that portray the life of woman in many different ways. They all depict the turmoils and strife's that women, in many cultures and time periods, suffer from. In some cases it's the woman's fault, in others it's simply bad luck. In any case, all three novels succeed in their goal of showing what a life of selling oneself short is like through the eyes of a woman.
In Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders, a woman, Moll is simply trying to get by and is given a wonderful start because she was born in a prison. Moll Flanders leads a life full of crime and prostitution because she feels it is the only way she can survive. She becomes do dependent on theft that she steals even when she does not need any more luxuries. In Moll Flanders, the reader at times feels bad for the main character because she really has no luck when it comes to husbands or life in general. Yet at other times we resent the fact that she leaves her children and continues stealing for no reason.
Moll Flanders is somewhat ambiguous because the reader does not know whether to feel sorry for Moll's disadvantages, or feel hatred for her irresponsibility. Moll is somewhat portrayed as ignorant, in that she does not know that what she does is wrong. E. M. Forster wrote that "A nature such as hers cannot for long distinguish between doing wrong and getting caught."
Although there are time when the reader feels bad for Moll and feels that she simply does not know better, there are times when Moll admit that she is doing wrong. However, Moll feels no sympathy for the people she steals from. Even after she stops stealing for some time, she being again without remorse. "Thus you see having committed a Crime once, is a sad Handle to the committing of it again; whereas all the Regret, and Reflections wear off when the Temptation renews itself" (184). Moll understands that the crimes she commits are unjust, but she blames temptaion for her delinquency.
The most direct reason that the reader feels sympathy for Moll is because she eventually feels guilt. "I had the weight of Guilt upon me enough to sink any Creature who had the least power of Reflection left, and had any Sense upon them of the Happiness of this Life, or the Misery of another" (218). At this point in the novel Moll was not yet repentant , but she did realize her fault. She mostly felt guilt not for the crimes she committed, but for the mere fact that she was caught. After frequent visits from the preist at the prison, Moll is enlightened. "It was now that I felt any real signs of Repentance; I now began to look back upon my past Life with abhorrence" (225).
In this novel, the woman is extremely independent, yet she feels the need for a husband in her life at almost all times. Moll continually does things that shock the reader, but we tend to sympathize because of the overall scenario and we ourselves might make some of the same choices she made. "Whatever she does gives us a slight shock - not the jolt of disillusionment, but without bitterness or superiority. She is neither hypocrite nor fool" (Forster). Although she tries to put up a front that she can survive through unmoral acts without feeling guilt, she comes to a realization that she is repentant and that there isn't a way to deny that.
Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary is the portrayal of a young woman who strives for romance. Throughout this life-long struggle for happiness she ruins the lives of both her daughter and her husband. She participates in numerous affairs and creates an enormaous debt that her husband and child are left with after she commits suicide. In this novel the reader feels no sympathy towards the main character, Emma Bovary. The reader sees Emma as a naive woman with unrealistic veiws on life and love. Emma sells not only...
Cited: Defoe, Daniel. Moll Flanders. W.W. Norton & Company, New York: 1973.
Emecheta, Buchi. The Joys of Motherhood. Hinemann, Oxford: 1979.
Flaubert, Gustave. Madame Bovary. W. W. Norton & Company, New York: 1965
Forster, E.M. "A novel of Character" from Aspects of the Novel. Harcourt, Brace, New York: 1927.
Thibaudet, Albert. "Madame Bovary" from chapter 5 of Gustave Flaubert. Gallimard, Paris: 1935.
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