Moll Flanders: The Struggle of Being a Gentlewoman

 

Twelve Year a Whore, five times a Wife (whereof once to her own Brother), Twelve Year a Thief, Eight Year a Transported Felon in Virginia

Moll Flanders was born to a transported convict and lacked the support of a family to ensure her a safe life. She is a naïve and vulnerable character as portrayed by Defoe in the novel.

During her early years, Moll realized that women around her lacked power and freedom to take their own decisions. But Moll’s idea of a good life was quite different from what other women around her thought to be. Moll wanted to be a gentlewoman right from her childhood which meant an independent and free life. Since women of the 17th century didn’t have the luxury to work and earn their livelihood as today, so Moll’s dream of leading a rich life couldn’t be fulfilled easily. So, she was bound to undertake a lot of unusual and unexpected decisions throughout her life which makes the reader question her character.

An Extreme Character

It is obvious for the reader to find it strange that Moll marries the draper after the death of Robert whom she had been married for five years. Later she marries the plantation owner, banker, and finally settles down with Jemy. She easily leaves Humphrey, her son from her husband whom she finds it to be her brother. She is mistress to Robert’s elder brother and the gentleman who later dies due to illness. Later in life, she also becomes a thief with the help of her governess who helps her enter into the criminal world.

Moll Flanders is basically an extreme and unusual character who knows how to survive even in the most unfavorable situation. A common person’s life is usually stuck in taking decisions between what’s right and wrong. But for Moll, leading a good life is all about doing ‘what’s necessary’ in a particular situation. Had she been stuck in what’s right or what people think about her, she would have lead a miserable life after the death of her first husband Robert.

Beyond the Idealism

I personally feel that Moll was just practical throughout her life. She knew that it was difficult to survive with idealism and emotions in those times. As a female protagonist, Moll makes the best use of her intelligence, self-sufficiency and practical competence to live through every situation she encounters.

She uses men as tools for survival and security and creates more opportunities for making more money for her future. In fact, her moral code is such that she can fit into the situation fully and come out without losing anything from her side. It seems strange when the reader finds that she is able to slip into marriages one after another without any residual emotions.

It is difficult to accept that Defoe’s heroine has used the holy institution of marriage just to climb the socioeconomic ladder that too for five times. But practically, there was no other way for Moll to make her place in the society. In those days, it was difficult for women to survive in the society without a good and prosperous husband.

In fact, Moll’s character is a persona of a strong and accommodating person who can withstand the storm of bad times in life. Ignoring the moral point of view of Moll’s character, one can really find get true inspiration from her life and the decisions she made. It is easy for anyone of us to fall into the trap of stress after a loss of a loved one or financial crisis. Unlike Moll, it takes a great deal of courage to revive back to one’s normal life. We find it hard to get over our emotional bondage and move ahead in life.

Is Moll’s character good or bad?

Moll’s story is a strong example of how determination and valor can help a person get through any situation in life. Although it is easy to categorize her character as good and bad only an intellectual mindset has the power to look into the bigger picture.

Survival was the only driving force of all the absurd and extreme decisions that she took throughout her lifetime. Despite experiencing a lot of ups and downs in life including the death of her husbands, she never actually gave up.

Had Moll been only after money, she would have never left the plantation owner (her husband whom later she found it to be her brother). She could have easily sustained the rest of her life living with the plantation owner in Virginia. But the guilt of having married her own brother made her quit the marriage and return to England without fearing her future. So, it’s not that she was only focused on exploiting the people around her to fulfill her desires. However, the never-ending desire of becoming a gentlewoman kept her spirits high and she easily made her way through the adversities.

That’s why it is futile to characterize her as good and bad or right and wrong. As humans, we always aspire to a better lifestyle than our current situation which implies there is nothing bad in making efforts for it.

Another important point to be noted here is that the rules to label someone as wrong or right differs from time to time and also from culture to culture. For instance, female education is the biggest priority of every country’s government in today but a few centuries ago it was just a privilege for the upper class women. With the changing times, the norms of good and bad have completely changed. Thus, it is irrelevant to characterize Moll as good or bad because her sole purpose was to survive and make a place in a male-dominated world.

What if Moll were a man?

Now it is obvious for you to think that she had gone to an unexpected level for fulfilling her motives. But what if Moll had been a man then everyone’s perception of her would have been completely different. In fact, then everything that Moll did to reach her goals would have been justified without an explanation.

The audience could have easily sympathized with a male child who began the struggle right from his childhood. This is because, from ages, society has found it hard to accept an ambitious woman who is brave enough to break the atrocities. Whether born in a rich family or in a pathetic condition, she is expected to follow a fixed code of conduct in her behavior and lifestyle.

The problem begins when a woman steps into the male world to explore her capabilities and create her own world. This is what Moll did. Moll wasn’t an ordinary woman of the 17th century. Also, one finds it hard to label her as a normal woman of the present times.

Moll was an extraordinary person who had her own dreams and wanted to fulfill them. Moreover, she wasn’t a housewife who just wanted to enjoy life by sitting in the backseat. She was beautiful, courageous, independent, determined, practical, and ambitious and a strong woman who wanted to be a GENTLEWOMAN.

Originally published on: Medium

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