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" (Defoe 25). At one point in the story, Moll's fortune has been outrageously blown out of proportion and she feels compelled to lie about it. Moll thinks that being wealthy and beautiful will help her find a suitor. "I, that was a great fortune and passed for such, was above being asked how much my estate was; and my false friend,... had raised it from F500 to F5000 (sic) and by the time she came into the country... F15000" (Defoe 127). While Moll is living with Robin's family, she discovers that withdrawing from family activities in order to leave room for the sisters, was not necessary. "I heard abundance of fine things said of myself which prompted my vanity..." (Defoe 23).
Moll finds herself extremely attractive. This vanity leads to her being easily seduced by men. Moll reflects on her first meeting with Robin. "I my truly say I was not myself to have such a gentleman talk to me of being in love with me and of my being such a charming creature, as he told me I was" (Defoe 24). Moll allows herself to be taken hostage by Robin's kindness towards her. "...I found he was very thoughtful, and that though he was very kind to me, and kissed me a thousand times and more I believe, and gave me money too..." (Defoe 35). Moll continues to let her morals go and comes to the conclusion that marriage is not very important. She believes Robin can love her without being married to her. "...[I] was taken up only with the pride of my beauty and of being beloved by such a gentleman" (Defoe 27).
Another important theme in Moll Flanders is repentance. Moll shows the desire to repent on many occasions, but it often seems forced. Until the end of the story Moll's repentance seem insincere, although she does show moral strength.
Moll's first repentance appears when Robin proposes marriage. "I was now in a dreadful condition indeed, and now I have repented heartily my easiness with the eldest brother; not from any reflection of conscience, for I was a stranger to those things, but I could not think of being a whore to one brother and a wife to the other" (Defoe 31). Moll shows strong character when she chooses to continue with this relationship.
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