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Close Reading of a Passage from Moll Flanders

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Close Reading of a passage from Moll Flanders

This extract from Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders takes place after Moll has committed her first theft, and is about to carry out another. She had lived in increasing poverty for two years after her banker husband died and in order to avoid starvation she is forced to lead a life of crime. This passage highlights a number of character traits that Moll possesses, particularly an inability to take responsibility for her own actions as well as a lack of maternal instinct.

           The use of religious language within the extract displays Moll’s inner turmoil as she is clearly unsure whether to carry out this crime, but does, due to ‘an evil Counsellor within.’ This is important because in the early 18th century, when the novel was published, religion and the struggle between good and evil played a key role in society. By repeating the word ‘Devil,’ and telling the readers that he was a ‘Prompter’, the responsibility for the crime appears to shift from Moll to the Devil. In this way, the protagonist is viewed in a better light and may even gain sympathy, as it appears that she simply could not prevail against such powerful evil. With this in mind, it is clear that Moll’s hamartia is that she does not fully accept responsibility for her deeds and therefore is unable to comprehend the turmoil she may have caused to her victim’s lives, proving why she displays so little compassion to the ‘innocent Creature.’

            In addition, Moll’s lack of maternal instinct is displayed at it’s most overt in this passage. The fact that she is willing to steal from a small child highlights her inability to show compassion and how desperate of a situation she must be in to steal from a minor. Moll Flanders coaxes the child into believing that she will take her home, ‘I took it by the hand and I led it along,’ emphasising how vulnerable and naïve her victim really was, this would make readers believe that the narrator’s crime was deplorable as children were supposed to be protected rather than exploited. Furthermore, the use of ‘it’ indicates that Moll saw the child as a thing rather than a human being, which may have made it easier for her to remove ‘the little necklace made of Gold Beads.’ Having given birth to a number of children, this lack of compassion is all the more shocking, as she clearly does not have the motherly tendency that was expected.


         Despite this, Moll’s barbarity can be called into question, as although her ‘evil Counsellor’ prompted her to steal, she did not murder the child, which is what she claimed the Devil told her to do. She defies the orders, ‘the very thought frightened me so that I was ready to drop down,’ showing that our protagonist does have a sensitive side as she was unwilling to harm her victim. Through this, Defoe displays Moll’s criminality as a necessity rather than one for pleasure or a thrill. We feel more compassion towards Moll due to the fact that we become aware of just how far she has to go in order to survive in 18th century England. She recounts her stealing as inevitable for a woman in her circumstances. With a recently deceased husband and no means of income apart from venturing into prostitution, she is penniless and destitute. Many women at this time were also in the same situation so stealing was not an unusual avenue for Moll to go down, however the fact that her victim is a child makes it all the more abhorrent.



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