Research Paper: Waifs in Literature

Pages: 6 (1992 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 4  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Family and Marriage  ·  Buy This Paper

Waifs in Literature

In the three novels Oliver Twist, Joseph Andrews and Moll Flanders, all three of the main characters were brought up by people other than their natural parents. The lack of parental love, guidance and supervision affected their personalities in different ways. Moll was the most deeply affected by the lack of a reliable support system. Throughout her adult life, Moll had no substantial support from close friends or family members who could help her either emotionally or financially. Oliver's childhood experiences were deeply affected by his lack of friends and family; however, unlike Moll's lifelong instability, his situation improved when he was found by his biological family and reconnected with his roots. Joseph Andrews was the least affected. Until the end of the book, he believed that he was the only son in the Andrews family. He had friends and family who lovingly provided moral support and guidance throughout his life.

Morals and Choices

Defoe offers a brief description of Moll Flanders on the title page of the book. He writes,

Who was born in Newgate, and during a Life of continu'd Variety for Three-score Years, besides her Childhood, was Twelve Year a Whore, five times a Wife (whereof once to her own Brother), Twelve Year a Thief, Eight-Year a Transported Felon in Virginia, at last grew Rich, liv'd Honest, and died a Penitent.

This introduction sums up the life of Moll Flanders, who began her existence on this earth as a motherless child and spent her adult life in a continuous struggle for survival. The introduction provides an accurate summary of her story, but it does not delve into her reasons for doing the things that she did in her lifetime. Moll was a child without friends or relations to look after her. Her mother was transported to the Colonies when she was just an infant and she was left in the care of a parish foster mother. When her foster mother died, she was sent to serve in the home of a rich family. Their two sons both took a liking to Moll, and she had an affair with one and married the other. She made no attempt to rationalize her willful actions, stating only that her "vanity was elevated to the last degree" and that "I had not one thought of my virtue about me" (24). Her vanity was further inflamed and her virtue completely eradicated when the master's oldest son handed her a pouch full of money for her services (29).

She married the younger brother, whom she made no claims to love. This younger brother died only several years into the marriage. After abandoning her children with her mother in law, she remarried a scoundrel, who left her because of some entanglements with the local law authorities. Moll developed a pattern of living with men for the resources they could provide, but each time the relationship would fail, she would leave behind any children she had parented, and she would set out again in search of new conquests. This pattern continued until late in her life when she turned from sex to thievery to earn a living.

It is easy to judge Moll for her indiscretions; however, her options for making a living on her own were severely limited. In 1861, long after the story of Moll Flanders was written, Jane Austen wrote, "Single women have a dreadful propensity for being poor, which is one very strong argument in favor of matrimony" (Gast, 1). There were few options open to women aside from marriage and motherhood, especially if that woman had no friends or family upon whom she could rely for financial assistance. In a society where single women were virtually unemployable and starvation was a real threat, morality was a luxury that Moll could not always afford.

Henry Fielding's character Joseph Andrews differed from Moll in that he esteemed virtue over financial gain or social advancement. He was portrayed as an upstanding youth with ideas on morality that were somewhat unusual for a person in his situation. For example, he did not believe in having sex outside of marriage. He had a virtuous sister named Pamela, whom he strove to emulate. He followed her example and avoided the advances of Mistress Booby, his employer, and Mistress Slipslop, one of her upper servants. He stated, "I can't see why…because I am a man, or because I am poor, my virtue must be subservient to her pleasures" (32). He endeavored to remain faithful to his true love Fanny despite the advances of other women. Joseph Andrews esteemed conscience over money and ended up as a poor but virtuous man.

Moll esteemed money over virtue. She had used sex as a means of getting money to live on since the time her first lover offered her a sack full of gold for her favors. Joseph was offered the same opportunity when Lady Booby expressed her interest, but he refused the invitation. He could have gained social advancement or financial patronage by having sex with Lady Booby or even with Mrs. Slipslop, but he chose instead to forswear both the money and the promotion that could have come from selling his virtue. He was not as frightened of poverty as Moll was, perhaps because he had been reared in a home that if not wealthy was at least comfortable. He did not have the same first-hand experiences with destitution that Moll had experienced.

Joseph Andrews was a foundling, but he was not aware of his mistaken parentage until the end of the story. He believed that he was the only son of Gaffar and Gammar Andrews and had no reason to question their devotion. In addition, he had several moral guides to help him. His sister Pamela was a devout believer in preserving a clean conscience, and he tried his best to follow her example. He was also close friends with Abraham Adams, a minister, who did his best to see to it that Joseph stayed on a moral course.

The story of Joseph Andrews differs from Moll Flanders' story in several key aspects. First, Joseph was not a parentless foundling like Moll. Although Joseph was stolen by gypsies and was swapped with the biological Andrews child, in time Joseph's adoptive mother came to love the sickly baby boy as much as she had loved her own lost daughter. Her devotion extended to the point that she did not tell her husband that the children had been switched. Joseph was loved by his parents, by Fanny, and by Mr. Adams, who treated Joseph and Fanny as if they were his children. Moll, on the other hand, had neither friends nor family to support her or guide her to make better life decisions.

In addition, Moll was a woman. In her society, men dictated the terms of the relationships. She claimed that "marriages were here the consequences of political schemes, for forming interests, carrying on business, and that love had no share or but little in the matter" (62). She also noted that men were primarily interested in women who had money.

The men made no scruple to set themselves out and to go a-fortune hunting, as they call it, when they really had no fortune themselves to demand it or merit to deserve it; and they carried it so high that a woman was scarce allowed to inquire after the character or estate of the person who pretended to her (62).

In Joseph's society, there was a place for love, whereas in Moll's world, there was no love from friends or family and marriage was reduced to a means of survival.

Oliver Twist knew little enough of love. He was born in a workhouse to an unwed mother who died during childbirth. He spent his childhood in a parish workhouse and remained there until he was sold to the undertaker, Mr. Sowerberry. He was treated unkindly by Noah, a servant boy, who said cruel things about Oliver's mother. In a fit of frustration Oliver escaped and ran away to London. When he arrived in London he met a young criminal named Dodger, who worked for Fagin. Like Moll Flanders, Oliver had no friends or family who could guide his moral development. Moreover, he had spent his entire life as an unwanted child, and Fagin was the first person who showed an interest in his well-being. Fagin and Dodger fed him, sheltered him, and played odd games where Fagin pretended to be a city gentleman and the boys took turns picking his pockets. His new family abandoned him just as quickly as they took him in, however, when he went out with two other boys one day and realized in a rush of horror that the games they played were really lessons in how to steal. Although Oliver did not commit any crime, he was caught and was taken before the magistrate. Fortunately, the victim whose pocket had been picked saw a look in the boy… [END OF PREVIEW]

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