In Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders, what type of crime and criminals is Defoe interested in?  

Expert Answers info

Walter Fischer eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2013

write4,023 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Business

Daniel Defoe’s novel The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, commonly referenced as simply Moll Flanders, tells the story of a woman born in Newgate Prison – her mother having been convicted of petty theft – determined to rise above her lot in life in the rigid society of Great Britain.  Moll, a term associated with the girlfriends of gangsters, may seem to be condemned to a life of poverty and servitude at the behest of others, but she is smart and committed to extricating herself from the otherwise inevitable morass into which she was born.  Unfortunately, the only real avenue available to a woman of the lower caste is crime or prostitution – the profession from which her surname, Flanders, is derived.  Defoe’s protagonist/narrator chooses to remain anonymous given the sordid details of her life, so she remains somewhat content to be known by the moniker of Moll Flanders (“this famous Moll Flanders, as she calls herself”).

Defoe’s narrator, Moll, is unabashed in her accounting of her life; she did what she had to do, even though she would turn repentant in her later years.  Defoe, however, makes his protagonist an accomplished thief and trader in stolen goods.  In his prologue, he notes that his creation is hardly a model for others, and, indeed, issues a warning to the reader to beware such characters of nefarious reputation:

“All the exploits of this lady of fame, in her depredations upon mankind, stand as so many warnings to honest people to beware of them, intimating to them by what methods innocent people are drawn in, plundered and robbed, and by consequence how to avoid them. Her robbing a little innocent child, dressed fine by the vanity of the mother, to go to the dancing-school, is a good memento to such people hereafter, as is likewise her picking the gold watch from the young lady's side in the Park.”

Moll has been hardened by the environment in which she grew up and in which she must function as an adult.  Sentiment rarely figures into her calculations, as when she describes one particular encounter with a young man who, driven by lust but affected by certain inhibitions, somewhat forcefully engages her in what could generously be called "a...

(The entire section contains 760 words.)

Unlock This Answer Now


check Approved by eNotes Editorial