Moll Flanders: Themes


Three recurring themes in Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe are greed, vanity,
and repentance. Theme is defined as an underlying or essential subject of
artistic representation. These three themes play an important role in the
development of the story of Moll Flanders.
The first theme, greed, is shown in Moll\'s acts of prostitution. Moll
turns to thievery in many instances to support herself. She also allows her
morals to disintegrate; a result of her greediness.
Moll\'s first act of prostitution is thrust upon her unknowingly. In the
beginning of the story, she is living with a gentle woman and her family. One
of the brothers takes interest in Moll and seduces her into becoming his lover.
"He took these freedoms with me… when this was over he stayed but a little while,
but he put almost a handful of gold in my hand…" (Defoe 26). Moll lets down her
guard and meets with the brother frequently. "… so putting the purse into my
bosom, I made no more resistance to him, but let him do just what he pleased and
as often as he pleased…" (Defoe 30). Later in the story, Moll becomes
acquainted with a woman who persuades Moll to work for her as a prostitute.
Even though Moll is now married, she agrees to sell her body for profit. "I
found presently that whether I was a whore or a wife, I was to pass for a whore
here…" (Defoe 144). Moll\'s acts of prostitution show that she will carry out
illegal practices in order to get money.
Moll\'s many instances involving thievery also express the theme of greed.
At the end of the story, Moll gives her son a stolen watch. "… I stole it from
a gentlewoman\'s side at a meeting house in London" (Defoe 297). Moll says this
is the only thing of value she has to give him. One Christmas Day Moll
discovers an unattended silversmith\'s shop. "I went boldly in and was just
going to lay my hand upon a piece of plate, and might have done it and carried
it clear off…" (Defoe 238). Moll resists the temptation to steal because a
nearby shopkeeper rushes over after having seen her enter the empty store.
While Moll is living with the old governess she has some luck swindling a man at
a gaming-house who seems "…to be of more than ordinary fashion…" (Defoe 230).
Moll wins him some money and secretly keeps a part for herself each time. "…he
divided it with me, and I brought away 30 (sic) guineas besides about forty-
three which I had stole privately…" (Defoe 231-232). Much like her
prostitution, Moll\'s acts of thievery bring out her sense of greed.
Moll seems to lose her morals while trying feverishly to gain assets.
For example, when Moll decides to let Robin take freedoms with her, she admits
self annihilation. "… I finished my own destruction at once… being forsaken of
my virtue and my modesty, I had nothing of value left to recommend me, either to
God\'s blessing on man\'s assistance" (Defoe 30). As Moll is contemplating
Robin\'s true feelings for her, she comments about how proud she is of the money
she has received as his mistress. "As for the gold, I spent whole hours in
looking upon it; I told the guineas over a thousand times a day" (Defoe 27).
Moll has decided that marriage does not really matter, as long as she has enough
money. She allows Robin\'s kind words and offerings of gold to suffice her
greediness and destroy her character. " I had a most unbounded stock of vanity
and pride, and but very little stock of virtue… but thought of nothing but the
fine words and the gold" (Defoe 26-27). Moll allows her morals to disintegrate
while trying to fulfill her need for money. Moll\'s prostitution, thievery, and
periods of moral disintegration play a major role in developing the theme of
greed in Moll Flanders.
An important theme of Moll Flanders is vanity. Growing up, Moll was
constantly being told how pretty she was. Most of Moll\'s actions in the story
are almost always a result of her vanity. She is also easily seduced because
she thinks any man could fall in love with her because she is so beautiful.
Moll pleads with others after her to be aware of their actions. She
warns that if a young woman thinks she is beautiful, she will never doubt any
man that tells her he loves her. "…guard themselves against the knowledge of
her own beauty"