Moll Flanders

“The Men Play the Game All Into Their Own Hands”: Social and Economic Exploitation in Moll Flanders College

The seventy-year-old Moll Flanders who narrates her own life story considers herself a reformed criminal. But to what degree should her perceived transgressions cause her to actually be understood as such? After all, Defoe’s novel makes it clear that a number of different factors ultimately contributed to the courses of action that his heroine came to regret in her later life, not all of which were truly under her control. Although theft stemming from greed is clearly wrong, the morality of situations like marrying into financial security and misleading lovers about her financial situation may be more ambiguous than Moll presents them. Through his account of Moll Flanders’ violations of the gender-related norms and expectations of her time, Defoe critiques England’s capitalist system and its tendency to disproportionately victimize impoverished women.

Born to a mother who is almost immediately convicted of theft and jailed, Moll is essentially orphaned at six months (10). Adrift, she travels with a group of gypsies, works for a poor woman whom she calls her nurse, and finally is taken in by a prominent and wealthy family. Here, Defoe introduces the reader to Moll Flanders’ underlying theory of learnt identity—to be an orphaned...

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