Practically orphaned Moll has to find her own way in the world, and her guiding light is the idea of being a gentlewoman. It's hard to think of a more "wretched" situation than having your criminal of a mother shipped off to Virginia after being born in jail, but that's the world our Moll is born into. She doesn't have a lot of options, but she does have an appetite for fine, fancy things and the lifestyle that goes with them. Moll wants to be a gentlewoman, and she starts this quest early in life.
Moll's so bent on becoming a gentlewoman that she loses her virtue to a cad, which leads her to spiral into a series of marriages with a parade of Mr. Wrongs. Still, she's doing okay. At first, Moll's good luck and good looks work in her favor. Men seem to love her, and she racks up a whole string of suitors. Each time she gets a relationship going, though, something sours it, whether the guy turns out to have no money, dies, or ends up being her brother. After each failed relationship, Moll seems to land on her feet, but the older she gets, the harder it is to rely on her fading good looks to entrap another husband.
Moll's dubious-to-begin-with morals descend even further. She starts thieving to support herself when her romantic luck runs out, and during her whole criminal career she only seems to be one step ahead of the law. The whole time, she knows she'll face terrible consequences if she's caught, but she keeps doing it anyway. When she finally does get caught, the repercussions of what she's done come crashing down around her, and her choice to become a thief becomes the choice that defines the rest of her life.
Luckily, Moll finds her best-loved husband in jail with her. A reunion in prison's as good as any. Even though they both face the possibility of execution, through luck and perseverance they manage to have their sentences commuted to exile. Then, despite all odds, they then end up on the same boat to America, where Moll will have to negotiate the aftershocks of her former, incestuous marriage.
Explanation/Discussion: This marriage sticks, and Moll even gets to be a mother again when she's reunited with one of her sons. This time, she has plenty of money, a secure status, and control over her destiny. By the book's end, she has secured her future and her husband's for the rest of their lives. They can just hang out and enjoy their money – and pray whenever they get a little worried about all the sins of their pasts. Not too shabby.