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Themes

Women have it pretty tough in <em>Moll Flanders</em>. They've only got a few options in life. They can be a wife, a mistress, a servant, a criminal, or prostitute. When it comes to choosing one of these positions, it all comes down to how much money a woman has access to. Moll moves between categories because she perseveres, but also because she is unusually lucky, and skilled in manipulation. Like Moll, the women in this book look out for themselves more than their children or their partners, and their beauty or feminine qualities are as a means to an end. If this sounds like an unflattering portrait of women, well that's because it is. So it's up to you to decide whether Defoe is poking fun of females, or the cruel society that forces them into this life.

Questions About Women and Femininity

  1. Many characters state that a woman's finances are more important than her face. Does this seem to be true in the book? What events support or undermine that?
  2. What kind of a mother is Moll? How do you think she views motherhood?     
  3. How does Moll emphasize her own femininity? How does she use it? Does her femininity help or hurt her?      
  4. Would it have been easier to be a woman during the time the book is set, or a man? Why do you think so?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

In acting like a prostitute and marrying strategically, Moll effectively uses her body like a commodity to her own advantage.

As a woman, Moll had no other option than selling her body for money, both as a prostitute and in marriage. She had to do so in order to survive.

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