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Moll Flanders | Study Guide

Daniel Defoe

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Moll Flanders | Symbols



The reader never learns Moll's real name, as she wishes to remain anonymous out of fear her notoriety as a criminal might cause issues for her or her family. Her false name is a symbol of her web of deceit. After all, Moll first changes her name to avoid the creditors and her second husband, the draper. While the false name enables her to avoid financial responsibility for living beyond her means, it also forces her to break with her past. As soon as she takes on a new name, part of her identity has to remain hidden, and she has to discard her old life and whatever support system she may have had: "I was entirely without friends ... for I found it was absolutely necessary not to revive former acquaintances." Loneliness becomes Moll's constant companion, for as she moves from relationship to relationship, she can neither reveal her humble birth nor her prior relationships, lest she would be less attractive to the men of means and social standing she seeks out.

It is interesting to note that the men Moll attaches herself to are rarely called by their proper names—the older son of her adoptive family, the draper, the banker, the gentleman in Bath, etc. While keeping their full names a secret can be justified by Moll's desire to protect their identity, she could call them by their Christian names. Labeling her husbands and lovers by profession or by familial and social standing involves an element of depersonalization. Matrimonial relationships are "the consequences of politic schemes for forming interest, and carrying on business, and that love had no share, or but very little in the matter." The notable exception to this rule is her Lancashire husband, Jemy, the man who, like her, enters relationships for financial gain. The two are each other's match, and it is no surprise that she falls in love with him, saying, "I loved my Lancashire husband entirely." Moll can finally be honest with Jemy in the end, give him "an account of all that affair," and find true companionship

Bag of Money

As much as Moll seems to depersonalize her husbands and lovers by never calling them by their first names, women are depersonalized throughout the novel: "She is just like a bag of money or a jewel dropped on the highway, which is a prey to the next comer." In 17th- and 18th-century England, women were a man's property to be treated as he saw fit. The law of coverture transferred a woman's property to her husband, essentially making the wife part of the dowry. It is no wonder Moll ascribes monetary value to herself to gauge her worth on the marriage market.

Moll's very first relationship with the older son of her adopted family is equated with money. Her lover gives her money in lieu of making good on his promise to marry her. From that point on, every time Moll is left alone after a relationship, she pauses to add up her assets: "Being still young and handsome ... and with a tolerable fortune in my pocket, I put no small value upon myself." However, once her youth and beauty have waned, Moll's value decreases considerably, and she can no longer attract a man, and hence no longer attain social standing. When her banker husband dies and leaves her penniless, Moll is "left in a dismal and disconsolate case ... past the flourishing time ... when [she] might expect to be courted for a mistress." Left to her own devices, she falls prey to the temptation of a life of crime: "Poverty brought me into the mire, so avarice kept me in, till there was no going back."

Money, profit, and financial stability are what drive Moll, and all her decisions are made to attain economic security. She gets married or becomes a mistress if it is financially profitable; she leaves her children behind if she feels she cannot provide for them in style; and she embarks on a life of crime to secure an income. Only when padded with moderate wealth is she willing and able to entertain moral or emotional considerations.

The Mint

The Mint is the seedy side of London where the city's underworld operates. On the run from creditors after she and her draper husband spend all their money on a lavish lifestyle, Moll goes into hiding there for the first time. She returns a second time years later, alone and pregnant, to give birth to Jemy's child. And she ends up at the Mint a third and final time when she falls on hard times yet again after her banker husband passes away and leaves her penniless. The Mint serves as "a strange testimony of the growing vice of the age." Although thieves and prostitutes reign supreme—the midwife Moll stays with likely runs a brothel on the side—Moll never notices "the least indecency in the house the whole time I was there." The Mint and its inhabitants—most notably the midwife—symbolize the moral ambiguities illustrated throughout the novel. The midwife is at once a governess taking care of fallen girls, a madam running prostitutes, a pawnbroker peddling stolen goods, and Moll's only reliable friend in times of need. In fact, when Moll is pregnant, the midwife becomes a mother figure who won't even abandon her when Moll is sentenced to death at Newgate, the very place where her birth mother abandoned her—albeit not by choice. The midwife handles Moll's finances while she is imprisoned at Newgate and later transported to America, illustrating the notion that there is honor among thieves.

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