Throughout Daniel Defoe’s novel Moll Flandersthe title character devotes her entire life

Throughout Daniel Defoe’s novel Moll Flanders,the title character devotes her entire life to achieving wealth and social status. It is clear that Moll achieves her desires of being a gentlewoman, yet her identity is constantly changing throughout the novel. She is affected by every person and experience she comes across questioning whether or not her lifestyle and decisions were the right ones, and often debate Defoe’s ambiguous description of his title character that represents a woman different than any other woman in the traditional norms of eighteenth-century England. In this society, men ran everything because they were seen as superior to women in everyday life. Women lived through their male partner, and marriage was the only way for them to hold any control in society. Comparing the illustration of Defoe’s Moll to MichèleCrampe-Casnabet’s description of women roles during the Eighteenth-Centuryin A History of Women in the West- Renaissance and Enlightenment Paradoxes, I argue that Defoe uses Moll’s character to celebrate a change in the traditional role women played in the society by creating her to be a rebel against the society norm. In doing this, he creates a story of an ambiguous character that struggles to understand whether she is following the traditional norms of society, or developing a model of a life for women to follow and live by. Crampe-Casnabet explains that men and women were not equal at this time even though each account for half of the human race population. She said this “is in fact ambiguous because, oddly enough, it was not reciprocal: men were never said to constitute the other half of the species. A subtle Kramer 2sophism was at work: women were a “half” without an “other half.” The female half existed only in relation to the male half, which was its ground and defining reference” (317-318). Ironically enough, Defoe builds Moll to be a character that holds a man’s traditional role in society. She considers herself to be superior to all, and views men as being the “other half” that women control in any way they like. Through manipulation, marriage and struggle to keep social rank Moll is depicted to control her own position in society, and never fails to fall to thesuperiority of male dominance.Crampe-Casnabet’s term “subtle sophism” not only expresses her belief that it was impossible to consider men and women two halves that equal one whole because men were overly portrayed as being superior to women, but could suggest a way to describe Defoe’s formation of Moll to be a replica of a woman already in society. In a subtle way Defoe possibly creates his character to share the story of a real life woman. Maximillian Novak believes Moll “was imaginatively constructed from several women criminals of the time, particularly two known by the names of Moll King and Callico Sarah. Since Defoe was visiting his friend, the publisher Mist, in Newgate at the same time these two ladies were there, he would have had numerous opportunities to converse with them.” If this is true, Defoe may have used Moll to represent a new group of women in society; a group that tries succeeding in life on their own by their own means. “Moll King managed to survive from five to eight sentences of transportation without being hanged, and if some critics have discovered in Moll Flander’s life a mythic, symbolic sense of human endurance, they might well feel justified” (Novak 352). It is very possible that Defoe uses these two real-life criminals to create his story. I believe he takes common practices of women during this time and develops a larger character in Moll, a character that is very different from how women were supposed to be like at this time. Moll is a mix Kramer 3between the traditional woman in society and the outlaw woman who found herself in jail within weeks for going against the norm. It was rare for women to go against the norm as Crampe-Casnabet states “Of course the most important discourse on the nature of woman stemmed from the mediations of men” (324-325). I suggest that Defoe writes this novel to celebrate this idea of a woman going against the traditional norm, and through Moll can really put a male perspective on how a woman should conduct themselves in society. It is interesting to see that Defoe, a male, writes through a female character. This agrees with Crampe-Casnabet’s ideas that everything about a woman is “stemmed from the mediations of men”. As a result of a man writing about woman who carries out a nontraditional role in society, readers are able to look at the character of Moll and understand she is meant to be celebrated, not condemned. The language throughout the novel further suggests that Defoe writes to make the reader decide what is right from wrong in experiences dealing with Moll’s control on society. He sets the tone for this type of language when he shares in his preface that this book “Is suggested there cannot be the same life, the same brightness and beauty, in relateing the penitent part, as in the criminal part: if because there is not the same taste and relish in the reading, and indeed it is too true that the difference lyes not in the real worth of the subject so much as in the gust and palate of the reader” (40). Here Defoe is referencing the two extreme outcomes Moll feels from the experiences that occur throughout the novel. Through her relationship with the Nurse and in her education she develops a religious background to her life structure. There are times throughout the text where she goes back and shows remorse for what she has done, while there are other experiences where she feels no remorse and turns to criminal thoughts and actions. Both experiences I will talk more in depth on later. Each experience adds to the struggles Moll has with understanding exactly who she is and what she can ultimately control. Her control is what Kramer 4allows readers to see Defoe’s attempt to celebrate Moll as a woman living her life against the traditional norms of society. E.M. Forster in his article A Novel of Character shares that “Whatever she does gives us (the reader) a slight shock—not the jolt of disillusionment, but the thrill that proceeds from a living being. We laugh at her, but without bitterness or superiority. She is neither hypocrite nor fool” (343). This idea proves that Moll’s character is in control of herself. Although she is going against the norm she is still able to conduct herself in a way that all readers can accept. Calling Moll neither a hypocrite or a fool proves of Defoe’s ability to play both sides. He writes a novel about a woman stretching the boundaries of going against the norm, but there are still parts in the text where he limits her control. Moll’s control over the story and other characters is limited right from the opening lines of the novel when she does not give herself a true name. Telling the story through Moll’s voice demonstrates the initial belief that women are equal to men, which was not the case during this time period. Moll lives her life in ways that better suit her than the man she is with. On the other hand, this is not the life she always lived. Moll grew up with no immediate family. Her mother was a convicted felon, and her father is never named. In a time period where father’s ultimately chose their daughter’s destiny, Moll chose her own. Her first real mother figure was the Nurse. She describes their relationship by saying, “I talk’d to her almost every day of working hard; I did nothing but work and cry all day, which griev’d the good kind woman so much, that at last she began to be concern’d for me, for she lov’d me very well” (48). When Moll suggests to the Nurse that she wants to become a gentlewoman, the Nurse goes against self judgment and allows her to do it. This is the first time Moll shows control of her own destiny. She is able to weasel her way out of going to the service like every other girl her age and begins learning to become a gentlewoman. When the character of the Nurse dies, Moll is now left with Kramer 5full control of her own life. Even though she is brought in by the Colchester family, she is in the driver’s seat of what she wants to and will do in her life. She uses the education she receives from the family to better herself for the real world she soon would jump into on her own. Their education “was supposed to prepare [them] to assume her “natural” role as wife and mother” (Crampe-Casnabet 337). Defoe shows Moll to respect the “natural” role education played for women when Moll speaks of her education she receives from both the Nurse and Mayor’s family by saying:I had, as I have said above, all the advantages of education that I could have had, if I had been as much a gentlewoman as they were, with whom I liv’d, and in some things, I had the advantage of my ladies, tho’ they were my superiors; but they were all the gifts of nature, and which all their fortunes could not furnish. First, I was apparently handsomer than any of them. Secondly, I was better shap’d, and thirdly, I sung better, by which I mean, I had a better voice; in all which you will I hope allow me to say, I do not speak my own conceit of myself but the opinion of all that knew the family. (55) It is evident that Moll’s education is nothing more than being able to look presentable and suitable to others, a thought similar to Crampe-Casnabet’s description of a woman’s education during this time. Moll mentions that she has “a better voice” and is “handsomer than any of them” which suggests that her abilities to appeal to men were strong. It is her physical characteristics that make her reputation as a woman superior to the woman around her. Moll, however, has no interest in being a wife or mother. She continuously marries and has children, but never feels emotionally connected or obligated to any of them. Kramer 6Control is measured in Moll’s life depending on security and stability of status. She is always looking for security and stability in marriage but never performs “ her duties as wife, mother, and housekeeper” which were traditional roles of woman during the time period. (Crampe-Casnabet 339) This is proven with her first marriage to Robin. Moll accepts money from his elder brother, who remains nameless, to marry the younger brother, Robin, even though her infatuation is for the older sibling. It is true to say that Moll only marries Robin because the elder brother wants her to. She is in fact in love with the older sibling, yet he wants nothing to do with her past the ideas of sexual intercourse. This makes Moll think about what marriage really is. When Robin dies she makes it known that she cares more about her financial status than her partner dying when she says “I had saved of the money he formerly gave me, and about as much more by my husband, left me a widow with about 1200 ₤. in my pocket” (Defoe 89). William Krier argues this is only the start of Moll depending on the masculine character in the novel. He questions whether Moll feared that she had no power at all which led her to “place herself in the power of others” (400). He suggests that Moll never bows down to the power of the male figure; rather she uses them to increase her own value in society. This relates to the idea of finding security to receive significant gains. In this case Moll uses Robin to marry into a higher class and ultimately becomes wealthier. Once her husband passes she is in control of her power because she has her money and is free to do as she pleases. Jacques Sohierexplains “when she specializes in marriages or in being a mistress, she never loses sight of her security, of course, but also of her financial interest, and she always acts to preserve or if possible to enhance her stock” (9). A key term used here is “security”. Moll continuously looks for security in her life, and during this time period it is men who held this power. The only way women could share this power is through marriage. In searching for this security, Moll was searching for Kramer 7control because she knew if she had security it meant she had control as well. This is how Mollcan be looked at as a character to celebrate a change in how women were portrayed during the eighteenth-century because she becomes in control of who she is with at all times and whether or not she stays with them. The idea of marriage playing the role of the man controlling the woman did not exist. Moll continuously proves that she marries for the money and not for the love. She says “I had been trick’d once by that cheat call’d LOVE, but the game was over, I was resolv’d now to be married, or nothing, and to well married, or not at all” (90). This line proves Moll’s perspective on marriage is controversial for the time period. Crampe-Casnabet says a woman had the “desires to please by the necessity of her nature, then she exists only through being looked at by men” (327). Moll’s desires were to please herself. She did not look to any other character to please but her own. Labeling herself as a gentlewoman suggests Moll knows thatshe exists only through men, but her attitude and actions towards life forces the reader to understand she really thinks she can control her life in any way she likes. Moll is a character of the new evolving woman of the time period. She continuously marries men to have a steady source of income, security, and higher social class. David Blewettargues in his article “Changing Attitudes Toward Marriage in the Time of Defoe: The Case of Moll Flanders”” that Daniel Defoe wrote Moll Flanders to show how marriage in society was changing. Blewett states that “Moll’s subsequent marriage career is an extended matrimonial whoredom which exhibits her mistaken and corrupt notion of marriage” (85). He continues to suggest that Defoe was trying to use Moll to represent an evolving woman in society. Rather than growing up and marrying who they either loved or their father chose for them

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