The new economic policy that started to rule England by its powerful institutions was the idea of capitalism -in other words,the mother of all evil. The male-dominant society of the eighteenth century was becoming richer and richer but at the same time the community was becoming more and more corrupted on a macro level. Experiencing a major moral breakdown, fate of the women subjects of this society-especially for lower and middle class members- was determining by the men. So, what was their response to this oppression? In an era poisoned by inequality, some of these women forced to use their gender/identity for both as a protection and a powerful weapon to reach their will. While the economy progresses, some intellectual minds tried to reflect these whole hypocrisy and instability by their books. One of them, Daniel Defoe intends to explain the difficulties that women faced during his time by emphasizing on gender, the search of identity and social struggles in his novel Moll Flanders.
The society at that time was designing by the men and their influence on it was enormous. From the developing country emerged different job possibilities but it was unfortunate for the women because according to the perception, they had no place in business.
”Women’s paid employment was typically low status, low paid, and involved fewer skills and responsibilities than men’s. The types of work available to women were confined to a few sectors of the economy where the work could be seen as an extension of women’s domestic responsibilities, such as domestic service, the clothing trades, teaching, and nursing”.
Besides only the upper-class women would get the chance to educate themselves in well-established schools while the others such as the heroine of the novel Moll would learn some basic skills at home.
Marriage was an effective way for women to change their social status. The daughter of a convict mother and born in prison, Moll’s pursuit of a better life ends up with five marriages. Eventually she realizes that the most important thing in her life is to find a wealthy man whose money would keep her safe: ”I had been trick”d once by that Cheat call’d LOVE, but the Game was over; I was resolv’d now to be Married or Nothing, and to be well Married or not at all”(48). Throughout the novel it can be clearly seen that Moll, without hesitation, uses her body to get what she wants. The heroine plays her role on a stage designed by a patriarchal society: ”Thus I convinced her, that if the men made their advantage of our sex in the affair of marriage, upon the supposition of there being such choice to be had, and of the women being so easy, it was only owing to this, that the women wanted courage to maintain their ground and to play their part …. (268)” For being aware of her beauty and charm she realizes that she could survive by manipulating the ones who had created the oppression in the first place. Moll’s relationships do not fulfill her idea of being a ”gentlewoman” but these affairs gives her security.
The eighteenth century women were oppressed and they forced to do immoral actions like stealing or entering into prostitution. These women were regarding as a subordinate to men and within a patriarchal society they had not much option to earn their life in a fair way. It can be said that all of these scorning attitudes and pressure directed by men have caused some changes in the female characteristic that made their way to criminal world. The total number of women prisoners was increasing rapidly and the british government was in a search of solution:
”… the jails in London were filled with women pardoned from the death sentence on condition of transportation’. Yet the colonies did not want them. In 1697 the Government agreed to pay £8 a head to get fifty women shipped to the West Indies. Still the Recorder of London had to release sone of the women from the crowded gaol at Newgate”(59).
As the story progresses the heroine Moll loses her naïvety and begins to live a criminal life. In her new society she changes her appearance often for self-benefit and this makes Moll a very active figure who chases life rather than a passive women who are expected to do household chores.
To conclude, written by a puritan Daniel Defoe and published in 1772, the novel Moll Flanders deals with a harsh struggles of a heroine who is in pursuit of a better life and identity in a decaying society full of hypocrisy. Defoe, both from an individual and holistic pespective tries to shed light on the problematic of being woman in a rich and patriarchal environment by setting his emphasize on the notions like gender and identity. For the author was a reporter formerly, explains the conditions of the era and the social classes that were bordered by strict rules in a realistic way.