Analysis of "Moll Flanders" by Daniel Defoe

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Daniel Defoe’s book “Moll Flanders” is among the popular English novels. The novel follows Moll Flanders’s life as she fights to escape the toxic poverty in England in the 17th century.  She was born in prison, but wished for prosperity, as she reckoned love, prostitution and theft in terms of business dealings, thereby emerging as a surprising character. In the preface of the novel, Defoe tells the readers that his book is intended to provide a moral lesson through a narrative of a repented moral life. Moll failed to put a boundary between love and her financial interests, which led her into a criminal. Therefore, this paper argues that in “Moll Flanders” by Daniel Defoe, money is the main focus and to no extent is love acquitted with it.

Moll started worrying about money at a young age of eight years when she began figuring out away she could avoid getting placed in servitude. She desires to become a gentlewoman, which drives her to greed for money or wealth, thereby leading her into prostitution, stealing as well as disintegration of her morals. In the start of the novel, Moll is shown staying with the family of one gentle lady. However, Moll saw everyone as a commodity, and viewed the relationships she had with people as business dealings. For example, when one of the brothers fell in love with Moll and seduced her to become his lover, she took money from him despite the love she felt for him. She narrates that she gave him too many freedoms and he often gave her a handful of gold.[1] She continued meeting with the brother as long as she could gain financially. She stopped resisting, but allowed him to do whatever he pleased any time he wanted to on condition that he offered her money. Although she loved him, she went ahead to accept a bribe he offered so she could get married to Robin who was his brother. Clearly, Moll was highly flattered at men’s attentions if they were wealthy. Later in the story, although Moll is married, she agreed to the request made to her to work as a prostitute so as she could get money. According to Moll, whether she was a wife or a whore, she needed the money, and was ready for unlawful practices provided that she got money.[2] According to O'Donnell, Defoe remarks in “Moll Flanders” that “If a young Woman have Beauty, Birth, Breeding, Wit, Sense, Manners, Modesty, and all these to an Extream; yet if she have not Money, she‘s no Body, she had as good want them all, for nothing but Money now recommends a Woman”, which is a statement that Moll seems to have upheld in her life.[3]

The author seems as if he aimed at consciously manipulating his readers to look at Moll as a greedy person as he uses economic terms whenever he referred to her dealings in life. Almost all points in the novel help the reader to approximate the economic standing of Moll.

            Mothers are mostly viewed as social beings that love their children and nurture them.[4]

However, motherhood was different for Moll who instead of loving her children, she neglected them and prioritized her financial welfare above them.[5]

The author located hos works around 50years earlier and used ancient source of unswerving information to include present-day behavior as well as subject matter that promoted contemporary standards. Upon the death of Moll’s husband, she was supposed to fend for their children, but instead she resorted to prostitution as well as crime in a bid to protect her financial prospect. Originally, Moll resorts to what is termed by the society as depravity due to the desire to possess more money, which encourages her to go on with her quest as she is constantly counting and auditing her monetary gains. The plot that Defoe pursues in the novel is viewed as a parable of the consequences of making decisions that are ill-advised while dealing with everyday life demands, especially in regard to money and love. Moll refused to be a loving and caring mother and prioritize the wellbeing of her children to the detriment of her own happiness. The role of an honorable wife and compassionate mother has changed in Moll’s life. She desired the controlling and supporting role in the society. For her, it is it money and not love that determines the familial and social status.

            Money is a serious topic in “Moll Flanders” and the author has depicted the British culture of the early industrial 18th century through the lens of Moll. He has provided a unique perspective in chief conflicts in in the culture. During this time, the stereotype of womankind was vulnerable and unsafeguarded. Females got credit from their inner weakness that led them to the assertion of their emotional and sexual power to undermine the patriarchal order and break into its boundaries. The fundamental theme of the female gender structure was obedience and humility. In English household, the wife’s traditional role was as a partner and friend of her husband. She was entitled to bringing up children, running the household and doing shopping, while other duties like running business were left for men. From the mid-16th century to late 18th century a basic change occurred in the rearing of middling girls who popularized the new skills of writing and reading. They started finding their way in the male-controlled aristocratic society. Women like Moll were not content to labor for others or be dependent upon husbands and families, which is why they started deconstructing the conventional role that the society had designed for them. Moll’s greediness for money began destroying her identity that was defined by the society as depicted by her relationship with men. For example in the dealings with her Lancashire husband, she erased the difference between women and men. The two become the same and the marriage is seen as a strategy of double deceit. In her involvement with the clerk, Moll went on to destroy sexual codes and feminizes men. From the time she got married to the end, Moll was in a dominant position with an aim of getting what she wanted, which was the economic security. Other the love that could have been expected in the marriage, the association between Moll and her husbands was that of covert commercialization.[6]

            A bleak and sad future that Moll is worried about has often been shown at the start of all marriage episodes. On the other hand, in the finish of each episode, the men closely related to her died or left her as she escaped from legal punishment or deserted her to avoid morality and consciousness condemnation, which leaves Moll swirled again and again in her entire life. Her marriage experience is depicted as a repetition that can be summarized as revolving around money instead of love. The main inference therefore, is that money played an irreplaceable role in her life. Whenever Moll had to make a decision between money and love, the former was always her invariable quest. Because the money pursuit seems to be her reassessment of her morals, it can be concluded that it is an arising bourgeoisie ideology that makes compact money instead of the money itself that wheels the life of Moll.

            Unlike other females that during her time would derive their sense of security from their husbands and children, Moll derived it from wealth and for her, the more wealth she got the better, and was willing to acquire it through possible means even the unlawful ones.[7] She had to survive in the capitalistically oriented England and there was no way she could have played a genteel female to flourish to the “gentlewoman” she had imagined. Avoiding a poor life was a decision that the social environment of the time forced on individuals and Moll was obligated into a life of crime by social conditions. Defoe’s portrayal of Moll Flanders serve as a conscious ironic exposure of a female who like the society she lives in, takes money for love as well as virtue. Her substitution of money for sexual love is a major theme that the incidents of the novel pursue.[8] The consciousness of her displacement of physical and emotional considerations by financial ones has been explored convincingly in the sequence of her different love affairs, which is why it can be concluded that indeed in the entire novel, and particularly in regard to Moll Flanders, to no extent is love acquitted with money.


Defoe, Daniel. Moll Flanders. Broadview Press, 2005.

O'Donnell, Siobhan. "Bad Mothers in Eighteenth-Century Fiction."PhD diss., National University of Ireland Maynooth, 2012.

Quan-Baffour, Kofi Poku. "In praise of mothers: Songs composed by Ghanaian musicians as tribute to motherhood."Muziki 6, no. 2 (2009): 260-269.

Wang, Li. "The Politics of Negotiation: Moll Flanders and Defoe's Ethic Codification."Theory and Practice in Language Studies 2, no. 10 (2012): 2103.

Kelly, Edward. Moll Flanders, an Authoritative Text: Backgrounds and Sources; Criticism. New York: Norton, 1973.

McMaster, Juliet. "The Equation of Love and Money in"Moll Flanders"."Studies in the Novel (1970): 131-144.

[1] Daniel Defoe, Moll Flanders, (Broadview Press, 2005), 26.

[2] Ibid, 144.

[3] Siobhan O'Donnell, "Bad Mothers in Eighteenth-Century Fiction."PhD diss., National University of Ireland Maynooth, 2012.

[4] Kofi Poku Quan-Baffour,  "In praise of mothers: Songs composed by Ghanaian musicians as tribute to motherhood."Muziki 6, no. 2 (2009): 260-269.

[5] Ibid, 10.

[6] Li Wang, "The Politics of Negotiation: Moll Flanders and Defoe's Ethic Codification."Theory and Practice in Language Studies 2, no. 10 (2012): 2103.

[7] Edward Kelly, Moll Flanders, an Authoritative Text: Backgrounds and Sources; Criticism. New York: Norton, 1973

[8] Juliet McMaster,  "The Equation of Love and Money in"Moll Flanders"."Studies in the Novel (1970): 131-144.

November 24, 2023



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