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Moll Flanders: Themes

Three recurring themes in Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe are greed, vanity,

and repentance. Theme is defined as an underlying or essential subject of

artistic representation. These three themes play an important role in the

development of the story of Moll Flanders.

The first theme, greed, is shown in Moll's acts of prostitution. Moll

turns to thievery in many instances to support herself. She also allows her

morals to disintegrate; a result of her greediness.

Moll's first act of prostitution is thrust upon her unknowingly. In the

beginning of the story, she is living with a gentle woman and her family. One

of the brothers takes interest in Moll and seduces her into becoming his lover.

"He took these freedoms with me… when this was over he stayed but a little while,

but he put almost a handful of gold in my hand…" (Defoe 26). Moll lets down her

guard and meets with the brother frequently. "… so putting the purse into my

bosom, I made no more resistance to him, but let him do just what he pleased and

as often as he pleased…" (Defoe 30). Later in the story, Moll becomes

acquainted with a woman who persuades Moll to work for her as a prostitute.

Even though Moll is now married, she agrees to sell her body for profit. "I

found presently that whether I was a whore or a wife, I was to pass for a whore

here…" (Defoe 144). Moll's acts of prostitution show that she will carry out

illegal practices in order to get money.

Moll's many instances involving thievery also express the theme of greed.

At the end of the story, Moll gives her son a stolen watch. "… I stole it from

a gentlewoman's side at a meeting house in London" (Defoe 297). Moll says this

is the only thing of value she has to give him. One Christmas Day Moll

discovers an unattended silversmith's shop. "I went boldly in and was just

going to lay my hand upon a piece of plate, and might have done it and carried

it clear off…" (Defoe 238). Moll resists the temptation to steal because a

nearby shopkeeper rushes over after having seen her enter the empty store.

While Moll is living with the old governess she has some luck swindling a man at

a gaming-house who seems "…to be of more than ordinary fashion…" (Defoe 230).

Moll wins him some money and secretly keeps a part for herself each time. "…he

divided it with me, and I brought away 30 (sic) guineas besides about forty-

three which I had stole privately…" (Defoe 231-232). Much like her

prostitution, Moll's acts of thievery bring out her sense of greed.

Moll seems to lose her morals while trying feverishly to gain assets.

For example, when Moll decides to let Robin take freedoms with her, she admits

self annihilation. "… I finished my own destruction at once… being forsaken of

my virtue and my modesty, I had nothing of value left to recommend me, either to

God's blessing on man's assistance" (Defoe 30). As Moll is contemplating

Robin's true feelings for her, she comments about how proud she is of the money

she has received as his mistress. "As for the gold, I spent whole hours in

looking upon it; I told the guineas over a thousand times a day" (Defoe 27).

Moll has decided that marriage does not really matter, as long as she has enough

money. She allows Robin's kind words and offerings of gold to suffice her

greediness and destroy her character. " I had a most unbounded stock of vanity

and pride, and but very little stock of virtue… but thought of nothing but the

fine words and the gold" (Defoe 26-27). Moll allows her morals to disintegrate

while trying to fulfill her need for money. Moll's prostitution, thievery, and

periods of moral disintegration play a major role in developing the theme of

greed in Moll Flanders.

An important theme of Moll Flanders is vanity. Growing up, Moll was

constantly being told how pretty she was. Most of Moll's actions in the story

are almost always a result of her vanity. She is also easily seduced because

she thinks any man could fall in love with her because she is so beautiful.

Moll pleads with others after her to be aware of their actions. She

warns that if a young woman thinks she is beautiful, she will never doubt any

man that tells her he loves her. "…guard themselves against the knowledge of

her own beauty" (Defoe 25). At one point in the story, Moll's fortune has been

outrageously blown out of proportion and she feels compelled to lie about it.

Moll thinks that being wealthy and beautiful will help her find a suitor. "I,

that was a great fortune and passed for such, was above being asked how much my

estate was; and my false friend,… had raised it from F500 to F5000 (sic) and by

the time she came into the country… F15000" (Defoe 127). While Moll is living

with Robin's family, she discovers that withdrawing from family activities in

order to leave room for the sisters, was not necessary. "I heard abundance of

fine things said of myself which prompted my vanity…" (Defoe 23).

Moll finds herself extremely attractive. This vanity leads to her being

easily seduced by men. Moll reflects on her first meeting with Robin. "I my

truly say I was not myself to have such a gentleman talk to me of being in love

with me and of my being such a charming creature, as he told me I was" (Defoe

24). Moll allows herself to be taken hostage by Robin's kindness towards her.

"…I found he was very thoughtful, and that though he was very kind to me, and

kissed me a thousand times and more I believe, and gave me money too…" (Defoe

35). Moll continues to let her morals go and comes to the conclusion that

marriage is not very important. She believes Robin can love her without being

married to her. "…[I] was taken up only with the pride of my beauty and of

being beloved by such a gentleman" (Defoe 27).

Another important theme in Moll Flanders is repentance. Moll shows the

desire to repent on many occasions, but it often seems forced. Until the end of

the story Moll's repentance seem insincere, although she does show moral

Moll's first repentance appears when Robin proposes marriage. "I was

now in a dreadful condition indeed, and now I have repented heartily my easiness

with the eldest brother; not from any reflection of conscience, for I was a

stranger to those things, but I could not think of being a whore to one brother

and a wife to the other" (Defoe 31). Moll shows strong character when she

chooses to continue with this relationship.

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Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass Themes

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass Themes Ignorance as a means to perpetuate slavery

One of the most important ways slaves were kept in bondage was not simply the threat of physical brutality; rather, it was through deep and sustained ignorance. Slaves were not allowed to read and write and were thus generally not aware of the events outside of the plantation, could not communicate with each other well to foment rebellion or conduct escape plans, and could not attain the sense of self-sufficiency and pride that came from being lettered. Literacy brought with it an understanding of the larger world. It opened up before a slave the idea of justice and an understanding of history. Reading the Bible led to a truer comprehension of Christianity. Douglass was able to first engage with abolitionism when he attained literacy. He also became fully aware of the reality of slavery; he wrote "[Literacy] had given me a view of my wretched condition, without the remedy. It opened my eyes to the horrible pit, but to no ladder upon which to get out. In moments of agony, I envied my fellow-slaves for their stupidity" (36). Ignorance was thus a way for slaveholders to keep their slaves manageable, happy, placid, and content. Once a slave moved beyond such darkness into a world filled with understanding, he was only able to do what Douglass eventually did - attempt to escape from his bonds.

Religion weaves itself through the text in a myriad of ways. Douglass expresses that he is a spiritual man and a Christian, but takes pains to explain that his Christianity is based on the teachings of Christ, not the hypocritical perversions of the religion by slaveholders. He lambasts their pretensions to piety that conceal their corruption and evil. He chastises the Church for supporting the system of slavery, and calls the fake Christians Pharisees for their abhorrent actions and words. Importantly, he locates authentic Christianity in the black community. Douglass also alludes to the traditional religious beliefs of Africans, legitimating them alongside Christianity.

Resistance

Douglass's encounter with Edward Covey. which reveals "how a slave was made a man," demonstrates that his commitment to nonviolent resistance was crucial in securing his passage to manhood and self-actualization. Douglass was a paragon of patience, endurance, and fortitude. Although passionately roused on behalf of himself and his fellow slaves, he had a remarkable ability to channel that anger into healthy forms of resistance characterized by wisdom and maturity. He did nothing spontaneous or irrationally. He did not burst out in violence or rage and jeopardize his plans to escape or to attain literacy. His anger was calm and cool. In his epochal battle with Covey, keen readers will note that he did not actually fight back; he kept Covey from whipping him and gaining the upper hand. This resistance finally broke Covey, and the fight ended with neither man essentially victorious. What resulted from the fight, however, was Douglass's realization of manhood and autonomy. Thus, resistance in the Narrative centers on nonviolence and patient endurance. It is not rash or violent. Even though Douglass makes it clear that any man who wants to beat him must be prepared to kill him, he is not aggressive for aggression's sake. His path to individuality and fullness of self is not paved with blood.

Coming of age

The Narrative is not just a harrowing tale of an escape from slavery or an indictment of the southern system of bondage and religious hypocrisy; it is also a bildungsroman. the story of a boy becoming a man. Douglass journeys on a path from childhood to adulthood, from ignorance to knowledge, from slave to free man, from object to subject. He relates his growing comprehension of the realities of slavery while a child, and charts his course through his teen years while in the hands of several slaveholders. He details how literacy broadened his mind and made him aware of the deleterious and unjust nature of slavery. His resistance against Covey secured his attainment of manhood, allowing him to finally demonstrate the physical and moral strengths that were necessary to throw off the yoke of slavery. He also undertook a physical journey to escape bondage, knowing that to be fully self-actualized he would need to be free. Finally, he married and changed his name, further cementing his status as a grown man whose life was in his own hands. Douglass thus charts his coming of age in this remarkable autobiography, but sets his work apart from others in the genre due to the heightened quality of the obstacles he faced.

The importance of friendship

Douglass takes pains to negate whites' assumptions that slaves could not make friends with one another. This is categorically untrue; Douglass wrote of his fellow slaves at Freeland's farm that they would have died for each other, that they loved each other and consulted in each other in all things. They would not leave each other in the escape attempt and pledged to each other their lives and fortunes. Separation was a greater fear than death. Douglass's promulgation of friendship also exists when he laments leaving his young friends on the Baltimore streets behind and begins a Sunday school for his fellow slaves. He was a man who was sustained by community and fraternity; it made slavery more palatable and tolerable. Friendship was so important to slaves because oftentimes they were severed from their families in an effort to dehumanize them and thus had to rely on their non-familial brethren for emotional, mental, and even physical support.

The perversity of slavery

Slavery is revealed to be an utterly loathsome, execrable system that oppressed and physically and mentally brutalized its captives, and destroyed slave and slaveholder alike. Slaves were held in a system of absolute and total oppression; they were kept in ignorance of their birthdays, severed from family and friends, endured the most savage beatings at the hands of capricious masters, were raped and pimped out, forbidden to learn their letters, and deprived of enough food, clothing, and sleep. They were not allowed to marry whom they pleased or associate with those with whom they wished. They were denied education and the pursuit of knowledge. Their masters capitalized upon their ignorance by deceitfully trying to convey to them that freedom was onerous and debauched (as in the discussion of the holidays). Slaves became used to lying about being happy with their master and situation for fear that they would be punished otherwise. Slavery also ruined slaveholders, turning them from kind and fair individuals (such as Mrs. Auld ) to individuals that delighted in and abused power. Slavery ruined not only individual lives but poisoned all of southern society.

The abuse of women

There are few female figures in the autobiography. The white women depicted were the wives of slaveholders, inured to cruelty and capriciousness. The black women were slaves (except for the minor examples of freed women like Douglass's wife and Sandy Jenkins 's wife) and often bore the brunt of a master's hatred and brutality. One woman, Caroline, was pimped out by Mr. Covey, forced to bear the children of a male slave. Douglass's own mother was forced to have sex with a white man, thus begetting Douglass. Other women experienced the most savage beatings. Henny. a young woman who was maimed by burns, was specifically targeted by Thomas Auld. He whipped her multiple times a day. Aunt Hester was the favored victim of choice for Captain Anthony. no doubt because he was sexually attracted to her. He beat her mercilessly and humiliated her. Douglass recounts another tale of a white mistress so heavily beating a young slave girl that the girl died. Slavery took its toll on all of its participants, but women fell prey a larger part of the abuse due to the fact that their bodily strength was less and slaveholders perceived them as weaker.

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