by Daniel Defoe
Moll Flanders Theme of Criminality
Name a crime and it's probably found somewhere in Moll Flanders' 400 or so pages. Adultery, bigamy, prostitution, gambling, thievery, murder, lying, and, oh yes, incest are all committed. Whether the characters get caught or not, nearly all of them have engaged in some kind of criminal activity or deceit. Some of the very worst kinds of crimes actually go unpunished, while some of the most inoffensive ones reap terrible consequences. So why all this bad behavior? Well some characters are just bad seeds, but others are trapped in awful circumstances and feel they just don't have a choice. Figuring out how justified or unavoidable each of these crimes are (if they are at all) is one of the great challenges and joys of tackling Moll Flanders. Prepare yourselves, Shmoopers. Your moral compasses will be tested.
Questions About Criminality
- Why do you think Moll enjoys stealing so much?
- Why does the book seem to separate criminal activity into two types: one, prostitution or sex for money, and two, stealing or other cons? Is one type presented as worse than the other?
- Does Moll receive appropriate punishment for her crimes? Why or why not?
- Why do these characters lie, cheat, steal, and commit all kinds of other crimes. What's so hard about living an honest life in Moll Flanders?
Chew on This
Of all the crimes Moll commits, it's her casual attitude about the sad fates of other criminals that reveals exactly how corrupt she becomes by the end of the book.
Moll's claim of repentance falls flat at the end of the book, because once she is back in England, she enjoys her great fortune without making any effort to help out the people she has harmed along the way.