This piece analyzes the differences between incestuous behaviors in the time of Defoe’s Moll Flanders versus modern day society. It will explore the consequences as well as the way different cultures view incest. Using the research of Shawn Salvant, Ashley Turner, Brian McCrea and many others, this paper will interpret the reasons for the scrutiny of incest, as well as debate the opinions of incest. Upon gathering the conflicting beliefs of the authors, this piece will be based on my own research and interpretation. It will offer an analysis of the morals, societal norms, and ethics of incest, through a sociological perspective.
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Moll Flanders was a child born into poverty, who longed to be a gentlewoman and learned by cohabiting with a rich family and marrying into that same family. She climbed the class system, though, when her husband was rejected from the upper class & he widowed her, she was poor once more. Moll turned to a life of crime and travel for awhile. However, Moll would marry again, and this marriage would end with Moll finding her husband to be her brother. Upon finding out, Moll immediately leaves. This is where this piece will focus on, the incest of Moll Flanders and incest today. Can we compare the two and say much has changed? Have the attitudes of society changed?
Based on the reaction of Moll has when she finds that her husband is coincidentally her brother, one can presume that incest is looked down upon in her society. No matter the love she feels for her husband, she leaves him immediately upon finding their similar ancestry. In modern day society, incest is considered disgusting. There is legislature attempting to prevent incestuous behavior, and it is enforced. Can we justify this? It not only limits sexual freedom, but one can have their personal rights taken away due to incest. One will take into consideration, the effects incest can have on the offspring of close relations. However, if two infertile people were to be related and together, it would still be punished by law. It would still be scrutinized by the public eye. Neither party would be accepted in society. There would be the stares and whispers. Upon looking into these very opinions by credible authors, I will provide an analysis of what is considered so wrong about incestuous behavior, and what consequences should be deemed unnecessary.
Does the government have the right to limit sexual freedom? Ashley Turner suggests, in her piece about incestuous behavior (Turner, 2011), that laws forbidding incest are denying us our personal rights; however, she goes go on to explain the sex must be consensual for both parties. If a woman, who is legally an adult, decides to be intimate with her father, can we crucify the father without laying any blame on the daughter? Who’s at fault here? It’s ruled unconstitutional to make any laws again homosexuality, why shouldn’t two people who are related be able to be together? Who makes the rules when it comes to this? Incestuous behavior is looked down upon more than homosexuality. Which marriage bill is more likely to be passed in your state?
Laws against incest seem to be our government’s way of dealing with what they have been taught to fear. In “Inbred Obscurity” (Harvard Law Review, 2006), the author explores the reason for laws against incest. He, upon conclusion, attributes the reason for legislation against incest to the lag of social evolution, old norms affecting our view of incest. If you consider that incestuous behavior was frowned upon in Moll’s day and age, you will see that we are socially evolving at an amazingly, slow pace. Our congressman as individuals may not be as close-minded as congress as a whole. The congress as a whole looks to protect the greater interests of the Old America, where cowboys roamed the plains and everyone went to church on Sunday. No one in their position wants to be the one who “rocked the boat,” it could lead to an unfavorable opinion of them in public, loss of their position and even negative notoriety in history. We are taught by this very society to always stay in line, there’s strength in numbers, etc. It’s this very mindset that keeps our congressman for standing up for the little man. Can anyone blame them when they have the power on their side? Survival of the fittest applies to all animals – including humans.
Who honestly defines what incest is? How close does the relationship have to be? Is it just immediate family or does it apply to all cousins as well? “Incest thus refers to sexual relations between certain types of relatives rather than to sexual activities between adult and child” (Soothill, 2002) Do the laws reflect this definition? If you’re in a relationship with your first cousin, is that Incest in the first degree? Incest is punished as a crime in today’s society. Is it criminal to fall in love with your cousin? One cannot prevent themselves from being attracted to someone, however, most of us “don’t think of our family that way,” because we’ve been conditioned by society to not find family members attractive.
Finding a family member attractive in a sexual way makes you unacceptable to society. We all long to be accepted, such as the congressman who waives his rights to freedom of speech to avoid “rocking the boat.” Are we not the nation of the brave and free? Congressman should have enough confidence to stand up for the underdog, considering since they’re free, they shouldn’t be the underdog. This situation undermines everything our government stands for. The United States government has not been wrongly accused of being narrow minded. This is why we have classes in modern society about tolerance and how we should practice it. Does the government practice this same tolerance to anyone who is different? Does society as a whole? It’s been said people who have piercings and tattoos have a hard time finding a job due to their appearance. While people naturally judge others by looks, it seems we’d be more open today. We shouldn’t have to use our basic instincts in a job interview.
Could someone today accidentally marry their brother? I find this very possible considering the amount of half-siblings there are in modern day society. In “Pauline Hopkins and the End of Incest” (Salvant, 2008), the author suggests that if one believes in a monogenetic society, sexual relations among families become virtually unavoidable. By monogenetic society, we are referring to Christianity, the story of Adam and Eve. If everyone came from those two people that it begins with, we are all incest, however remote these relations might be. Can a true “man of God” find incest wrong? It’s said you can trace incest in the family of Jesus. The fact that committing incestuous behavior is immoral, who said this was so?
However, we must consider that Moll’s incestuous behavior was unintentional. In “A Day, A Night, Another Day, Summer: Stories” (Schutt), the author has a comparable theme of incest to Moll Flanders. The main character of the book, Jean, has an incestuous relationship with her son. Moll does not know she is doing anything wrong. She by coincidence happens to marry her brother. Moll cannot be blamed for breaking a rule she knew nothing of. However, it seems as if the unspoken rules always count for the most. How can society expect to have these rules followed?
Society has conditioned people to think sexual intimacy with a family member is wrong. This can also be seen in the cases of familial sexual abuse, but would we not punish the molestation of any child, whether it is yours or not? What is the person guilty of, is it incest or pedophilia? However, it is considered a whole other story if it’s your child. Where is the difference? Is it because you are supposed to love your own child more than someone else’s or is it just the mindset of Old America? Our founding fathers came from Europe, a place where incest was encouraged upon the monarchy. They did this to keep the power in their family line. This all comes back to power and values, which is how humans work. If it will help us to succeed, we will do it no matter who it hurts.
Moll Flanders used her sexual power over men. They were like a wounded mouse in the paws of a cat when they became attached to Moll. Moll appears as the playful, lovable cat to society, but her prisoners are broken by the enticing sexual attraction they have to Moll. Moll uses this to her advantage to progress in the world. Moll uses the equivalent of the “red power dress” in today’s society. Why not use your genetically given features to your advantage? In survival of the fittest, animals will use abnormal features to their advantage. In natural selection, Moll was the fittest. She was born that way, and she used it to climb the caste ladder. The article “Incest and the English Novel” (McCrea, 2006), suggests the while Moll really shakes up the image of women as a piece of property in her day; she also reinforces the idea of women as a sexual currency that must be circulated to make society work. Can we call this hypocrisy? While Moll was a feminist, she had to survive. She had to play her role in society to achieve her own personal goals.
Moll goes from a child born in poverty to a gentlewoman. She does not let her parents’ unfortunate placing in society affect her life. In “Bastards and Foundlings” (Corbett, 2008), Corbett explores the “doomed” future of children born out of wedlock. Moll was born in a prison cell to her mother convicted of theft. The author suggests our parents’ actions have nothing to do with our own judgment and cannot doom us to hell. Would anyone have a chance if it was up to our parents’ decision to dictate our lives? This is worse than a caste system; there is no possibility of movement if your parents control your fate. You can never escape who you are, though modern civilization has invented cosmetic surgery which can change your outward appearance. You still have your true identity on the inside. Even if you changed your name on records, you cannot escape your own conscience. In the end, you are yourself, and you must face the consequences of that.
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One can also consider that Moll married into being a gentlewoman. Some believe this impossible, what rich man wants to marry a poor girl? Most would look for someone of similar stature to make it possible to “combine empires.” The younger brother of the family Moll went to live with, gives up his estate to marry Moll Flanders. Prior to her marrying the younger brother, Moll had been the eldest brother’s whore. She was an honest whore, as she thought herself married to the eldest brother per the words he exclaimed to her. In “Sweet and Bitters” (Scott, 2000), Robert Scott compares Moll to Jong’s Fanny who was considered an “honest whore.” The elder brother, with no real intention of marrying Moll, asked Moll to marry the younger brother who clearly sought to make her life better. Moll eventually did so. Can anyone blame Moll? After being led on by the eldest brother, she was going to be a gentlewoman one way or another.
This piece was also influenced by the suggestion of Kacie Thompson (Thompson, 2009) in the facts about sibling incest. Thompson reveals that sexual curiosity between siblings is usually in the attempt to better a special bond they share. It was also influenced by the studies of the effects incestuous behavior has on women in, “Learning the Harsh Realities of Life” (Draucker, 2001). Draucker shows that rape and molestation has lasting effects of post-traumatic stress disorders, sexual dysfunction, and low self esteem on women. He sees no relation with incest molestation making the difference in the effects, other than not trusting that person. Would it matter who raped you?
Incest is found in all cultures, however, the way the culture views the incestuous behavior is what varies. The United States spends time trying to disband incest by passing laws that forbid it. Should the government be able to dictate who we have our relationships with? Is this the type of behavior you would expect from a democratic society? How can America ask their people to support them in wars when they don’t support their people in love?
Our congressmen seek to avoid breaking the greater interests of our older generations, with their values and morals. The laws that have been made to avoid incest are examples of the way these morals limit us. This legislature is exemplifying the fact the society and norms affect us and our decisions. Incestuous relationships should be a choice for people who are of age to consent to it. It should not be punished. This limits the freedoms and rights we have been entitled to by our Constitution. The Constitution is supposed to be the framework for our government, however, it seems as if the laws we pass undermine it. Pedophilia and Rape are different than Incest of two consensual people of age. Pedophilia and rape take our rights away from us as someone forces themselves on us in an unwanted sexual way. We cannot think incest is synonymous with rape and pedophilia.
Moll unintentionally became sexually involved with her brother; she was using her resources to climb the social ladder. While I will not suggest that women use sex to further themselves in professional situations, Women should accentuate what nature has given them, using their femininity as a power rather than a curse. One would think we would be past the days of civil rights, but it seems as if today women still get paid less with the same credentials. Businesswomen are not taken as seriously as they should be, so they should demand respect. Moll shook the foundation of women in her day, and women should still do that. The fact that they don’t plays another role on society’s affect on us, if we believe we cannot do it, we will not do it. Can a woman in today’s society still consider herself just a housewife?
Consensual, incestuous sex is not wrong. It is wrong for the government and society to make you believe so. While it is unconventional, if you have feelings for a member of your family, you don’t have a choice. It has been argued that homosexuals are born that way and cannot help whom they are attracted to. Can someone help it if they are attracted to a family member? What is the difference here? Why do we discriminate against one group more than another? Incest relationships could be between a man and a woman; this would allow them to reproduce. This is controversial, as the offspring may be at risk of genetic mutations. It would allow a next generation; it would keep the population going. Isn’t that what we strive for? America tries to make better for their prosperity.
In researching all the sources, I have found many different opinions about incest behavior. I have found new insights based on my readings leading to my realization, the government should not interfere when it comes to incest, with the exclusion of pedophilic and nonconsensual sex. We should not limit sexual freedom, however we should limit nonconsensual sex due to the sole fact that it is not wanted by one party and can cause lasting effects on their life.
Do you want the government to tell you whom you can be sexually intimate with? We need to try to put ourselves in the shoes of people who have experienced incestuous relationships and realize it could “accidentally” happen to us. It’s almost unavoidable, especially if you live in a small town. Can you control who you love? Would you leave the “love of your life” due to ancestry? If our parents don’t dictate our lives and the result of them, why should the government be able to?
Everyone in the United States, the home of the brave and the free, should be offended by the fact that we have let society condition us in such a way that we find it acceptable for our democratic government to tell us who we can be with. Is this what our fore-fathers wanted for us? They traveled a long way from home to provide freedom for their prosperity and now, it’s not so free. We are told everyday what to do. Our fore-fathers would want us to stand up for our freedoms, just as they did. Shouldn’t American people be able to feel accepted in their homeland?