Sample Questions and Suggested Essay Plans

The first two questions refer specifically to Moll Flanders, the 3rd and 4rd can be better addressed with some suggested background reading, although it is possible to answer purely in terms of Moll Flanders.

1. "Our human sympathies must sometimes be at odds with our moral judgements." Discuss with reference to the claims made on the reader by Defoe in "Moll Flanders".

Begin by defining your terms. What are the claims that Defoe makes on the reader? Are they more than literary? What does he ask, as editor, that the reader should take from the text? Are his moral claims at odds with the enjoyable and somewhat shocking story?

Consider how Defoe brings the reader to sympathise with Moll. Does he tell Moll's story in such a way that doubts about our own sympathy are raised? Look at the use of detail and the claims Moll makes that she is scared of poverty. How believable are her feelings (the fear of poverty, the regret or reflection felt throughout the book) when considered alongside the constant documentation of monetary wealth and possessions?

Your conclusion should look at the conflict between liking a character and following the moral instruction given by the supposed editor of the text. Is this in itself a tool to push the reader closer to Moll's perspective, thus encouraging sympathy?

2. The 'facts' given in "Moll Flanders" are little more than a detraction from what we are not being told. Discuss.

Look at the detail of money, of wealth. Consider why Moll feels the need for constant documentation, of money, but also of relationships. Look at the letters and declarations written and compare those documenting money with those documenting love.

Consider the reasons for the narrative technique of 'facts':
- authority/realism of detail
- element of personality that constantly fears poverty
- sleight of hand on the part of Defoe, that the quantity of description takes our attention away from the truth, that for all Moll's excuses, she is a cheat and her repentance has no real substance, there is no restitution nor real penitence. This to the extent that we never learn Moll's real name, nor do we have details about most of her children and what happens to them. We know only what Moll chooses to tell us.

Your conclusion should focus upon what you feel to be the purpose of Moll's documentation and how it contributes towards the book's effect upon the reader.

3. Defoe's genius consists in the ability to create a persona who consistently wins the reader's sympathy and so is able to convey an alien world to you. Discuss.

Firstly consider Defoe's use of the editor in the preface of Moll Flanders. How far can we consider this use of persona?

Is Moll's repentance believable? Consider the detail of the book and the realism of the description. There is certainly sufficient detail to encourage a sense of intimacy between reader and character, but we are not told everything (even the protagonist's true name). Is this a sleight of hand?

A good number of Defoe's novels are entitled simply the name of the chief protagonist (Robinson Crusoe, Roxana, Captain Singleton). Is this a form of typology in Moll Flanders ( a 'moll' is a whore) and Roxana (an infamous 'roxana', mistress to an aristocrat), or something more complex; as much a part of the characters' self- fashioning as use of typology by Defoe.

Further useful reading on typology is Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress parts 1 and 2. If possible, you should also read some of Defoe's pamphlets. Consider, for example, the use of persona in The Quickest Way

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