Freedom and Fate in Moll Flanders
Are people who believe in freewill simply ignorant of the reasons of their actions? In the context of Defoe's Moll Flanders, this question may result in considerable debate. Was Flanders free or was she predetermined to live a wicked and improper life mired in years of penitence? Did the whorish behavior of Moll's mother predetermine Moll's actions? Certainly there is no question that Flanders was a criminal - she was a whore, a thief, and she practiced incest.
In regards to Flanders having sex with her own brother it would be difficult to argue that this was a predetermined event considering she truly did not know her husband was of her own flesh and blood. If, indeed, she was aware of the relation and then chose to proceed then one could discus it further in the context of freewill. As for being a whore there is no question that Flanders, especially later in her life, involved herself with such happenings, but for me it was the thievery that seemed to capture the essence of Flanders continual undoing and constant need for penitence. There is no better part of Defoe's work to capture the feelings of utter despondency then when Moll is going to steal for the first time from the apothecary's shop. Defoe prefaces the scene with a few paragraphs where Moll explains her absolute "desolate state". The crime is then set in what James Sutherland explains, "...Moll's first theft he sets the scene with such careful attention to detail that he fixes it in our minds, and gives to it that air of authenticity which, for Defoe, is almost justification of fiction". This is where Defoe's journalistic stylings shine. The reader is indeed in the apothecary and sees Moll's gaffe unfolding before him.
We are free to judge whether or not we would take the bundle that so often becomes Moll's pursuit in the future. It is at that instant that we can decide whether Moll was free to do so or controlled by something unavoidable, such as fate. If Moll was acting on freewill it is arguable that she would not repeat the same crime in the future, in fact she would most likely avoid any such acts that resulted in the terrible feelings she experienced during and after the first offense. For she says herself, "It is impossible to express the horror of my soul all the while I did it".