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Moll Flanders

To what extent can an individual be influenced by a social system?

Through the character of Moll Flanders, Daniel Defoe presents us an critical view on the 17th century England, especially introduces us the life of a woman comming from the lower social class of London. Moll Flanders, though not her real name, accounts of her own life history from the time she is born to her very last years. Moll Flanders is full of contradicions. On one side we see a person she would like to become and on the other is the real Moll. Her life meets with a number of unfortunate episodes being in constant struggle for survival. The most significant notion surges to the surface is a question of morality. Moll is presented from the negative point of view; in the course of her life she becomes a notorious criminal. However, by the end of her life we see a Moll that is completely penitent leading a happy, balanced life. The question arises whether the criminal is a product of the social system or it is their nature and is morally defective as an individual.
At the beggining a short account is given to the severity of justice and criminal law as well as to the cruelty of the social system. A comparison is made to the surrounding countries, particulary France, where the law protects children that are unprovided for by their parents, be it the poverty and are immediatelly taken into the care of the Government.(p.7) Moll, being born in the prison left without any recources, relatives and help is exposed to very great distresses. This is a crucial stage in her life that determines in which her life would unfold. A justification is given that her life is destined to be like her mother's; that ii is her fate, living in a society that have no mercy over the orphan child. The feeling of loneliness has a strong effect on Moll's character that has a very strong presence.
Moll founds herself in a constant search for a close soul she can trust to and rely on; somebody that would form her family that she never was part of, resulting in her adopting of unstable moral values. She moves on a social scale from the very low position up to a standing of reasonably good standard. These two extremes are not only conditioned by the unjust social system; as she puts it many times that she was acting so deliberately.

In the Preface, the author says that the book was written with a good intention and that "all possible care has been taken to give no lewd ideas."(p.2)
When a child, she shows a great interest to become a gentlewoman; what in her understanding means to make her own living and to be an honest woman. Much to her misconception of 'being a gentlewoman', she unveils her innocent yet unspoil soul with good intentions and vision of life. What trickes her into this believe is a persuation made by Mrs.Mayoress that "she has an gentlewoman's hand", being just an unsincere remark. At this initial stage of her life Moll learns to work with needle, at which she manifests good skill. Later in her life she could find this of a good use but in contrary, chooses a different way of making her living. Moreover, she demonstrates an innate abilities to be a good learner, when placed in a well-to-do family. Particulary her skillfulness in learning a language or dancing is more evident even if it is only by observation the other children in the family. She gains a reputation of being a very sober, modest and virtuous woman yet ignorant
of what a temptation to wickedness means.
During these years of her life Moll learns of her beauty and subsequently her vanity is elevated to the highest degree. The more she is reminded of her beauty, the more her confidence grows. She becomes aware of this powerful weapon she poseses in her hands using to her advantage. From the beginning of Moll's sexual experience we are left wandering whether love is natural and spontaneous or whether it is a response to economic conditions. "No matter how pretty, witty, clever, modest, of good manners a woman is, if she has no money, she is a nobody; for nothing but money recommends a woman.(p.21) By this is argumented that money occupies the first possition as for the values of the society and overpowers human values. Moll, having fallen in love with the elder brother is being unconsciouslly cheated by getting money for her as a substitude for her affection, as she confesses:"I was more confounded with the money than I was before with love."(p.23) Moll loses the ground under her feet and strays from the path of a woman with good moral values. She gets used to receiving money for love, moreover it excites her. She comes to contradict to herself; on one side she wants to be paid, on the other seeks the security of a respectable marriage-as usual, her values are mixed and inconsistent.
Moll's lofe is not stationary. Her character developes and alters as she comes through the different stages and environment. From the credulous child becomes an experienced wicked wife, taking advatnage of every opportunity that comes into her way. Thus, she emerges on the way of being a criminal.

Her actions are justified by claiming that she was forced to do it; that the circumstances are to be blamed. But to what degree is this true? It can be demonstrated that when being in the height of her prosperity, when she is well provided for, there is little reason to feel the need to go and steal. However, she does so. Moll's character is shaped by the negative aspects of the society, in which the greater part play the importance of family background and how the society perceives it. This is undeniable. Being born to a world with no relatives her plight for survival met with disappointnent makes her a stronger person, less sensitive hardening her soul. However, she is not obliged to use her feminine lure as in her youth she has learned a craft of sewing and by this, she could make her living by an honest way and avoid such humiliation that she decided to undertake. Thus, her accusing the society of having the blame that she has no other option than to get down to her lewd practicies.
To pave her way she learns the craft of using men by deceiving them into a marriage as it becomes her habit or a kind of obsession. Her succes is reached by employing her witty and crafty mind. By presenting herself as a woman of fortune she gets them to marry her. She goes round this so cunningly that even comes out of it innocent, not bearing any guilt. Nevertheless, she is fully aware of these unsincerities but again claims them her "authority" as being pressed by necesity.(p.87)
In the succesion of these adventures she comes to an extreme of marrying her own brother, although little does she know of this when she meets him. At this point D. Defoe exceeds the bounds of reality in view of transmitting the very dire aspect of how far Noll's immoral mind could go. By this extraordinary coincidence she comes to meet her mother, who is by this time a very pious, sober and religious woman implicating that no matter a bad life one has they can become a good christian. A contrast is being made between England and America, a land of freedom and self-realization.
The desire to be settled in a secure household with a good husband to whom she would be a faithful wife is evident and reappearing throughout the course of her life. But is she being honest or just calculating? If "the vice came in always at the door of necessity, not at the door of inclination"(p.140) why than while at the height of prosperity never leaves her practicies? She knows the art of manipulating men and each time it grows stronger. Founding herself in a vicious circle, there is no escape.

In this way she manages five marriages. However, in one case, the deceit is mutual as both parties succed in persuasion of their false fortune.
Moll does not demonstrate much affection towards the 'outcomes of her marrieges'-the children, not much do we learn of their lives. She takes the same standpoint as her mother did to her. Leaves them helpless, incapable to supply their own wants. She uses them as a means of survival.
When she can have no more children, takes a step up in her criminal career and becomes a pickpocket. She excuses her behaviour by external necessity:"Give me not poverty, lest I steel. A time of distress is a time of dreadful temptation, and all the strength to resist is taken away; poverty presses, the soul is made desperate by distress, and what can be done?"(p.209) Contrary to this statement goes the real reason she has for acting accordingly. She is not stealing to survive, but to have fine clothes and jewlery. She goes on to describe this need as "having an evil counsellor within."(p.212) It is temptation that is behind these crimes. In her craft she does not use violence and she is not a burglar: she takes that which is already on display, as is the case when she robs an innocent child. She justifies her acting that it is not much for the jewlery but to give it's parents a reproof of their negligence in leaving the child alone. Consequently, it is to get them take more care of their child as well as a punishment of the mother's vanity. Moll is overpowered by temptation; "the diligent devil, who resolved I should continue in his service."(p.221) She founds herself caught up in a materialistis society, where money is the prevalent means of power and avarice joined with succes. She comes to a point where she does not think of leaving her criminal life becouse of the feeling of safety and tranquility in the possession of what she gains. She reaches the peak of her inhumanity and wickedness to the very extreme. As a representative ot the vices Of the period she arrives at the second stage of her life, and that is petinence. Confined to the prison, while waiting for her sentence, she reflects her life. This seems to be the most important part of her life when she repents of all her crimes.

The main purpose of this conclusion is to nake a contrast between Moll the criminal and Moll as a penitent woman.
The life of Moll, whether as a criminal or a petinent, serves the reader as a warning and caution of the crimes that one is exposed to and be more aware and conscious of oneself. However, it is doubted that a person like Moll would exist, with all her experiences, therefore can be perceived as a synthesys of the whole society. Bibliography:
Defoe Daniel, Moll Flanders,(Penguin Popular Classics, 1994).

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