Document Type

Undergraduate Project

Publication Date



In lieu of an abstract, below is the essay's first paragraph.

Throughout Daniel Defoe’s novel Moll Flanders, the title character devotes her entire life to achieving wealth and social status. It is clear that Moll achieves her desires of being a gentlewoman, yet her identity is constantly changing throughout the novel. She is affected by every person and experience she comes across questioning whether or not her lifestyle and decisions were the right ones, and often debate Defoe’s ambiguous description of his title character that represents a woman different than any other woman in the traditional norms of eighteenth-century England. In this society, men ran everything because they were seen as superior to women in everyday life. Women lived through their male partner, and marriage was the only way for them to hold any control in society. Comparing the illustration of Defoe’s Moll to Michèle Crampe-Casnabet’s description of women roles during the Eighteenth-Century in A History of Women in the West- Renaissance and Enlightenment Paradoxes, I argue that Defoe uses Moll’s character to celebrate a change in the traditional role women played in the society by creating her to be a rebel against the society norm. In doing this, he creates a story of an ambiguous character that struggles to understand whether she is following the traditional norms of society, or developing a model of a life for women to follow and live by. Crampe-Casnabet explains that men and women were not equal at this time even though each account for half of the human race population. She said this “is in fact ambiguous because, oddly enough, it was not reciprocal: men were never said to constitute the other half of the species. A subtle sophism was at work: women were a “half” without an “other half.” The female half existed only in relation to the male half, which was its ground and defining reference” (317-318). Ironically enough, Defoe builds Moll to be a character that holds a man’s traditional role in society. She considers herself to be superior to all, and views men as being the “other half” that women control in any way they like. Through manipulation, marriage and struggle to keep social rank Moll is depicted to control her own position in society, and never fails to fall to the superiority of male dominance.


Paper from Dr. Deborah Uman's English Senior Seminar course, Fall 2012.

Additional Files

Poster-Kramer.pdf (489 kB)