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The Canterbury Tales, By Geoffrey Chaucer

1557 words - 6 pages

The Canterbury Tales is more than an amusing assortment of stories; it is an illustration of the society in which Geoffrey Chaucer lived. It portrays the culture and class system of the medieval ages in microcosm. Every strata of human life at the time were represented by the many characters whose tales are told. Each character’s basic human nature also plays a role in their stories, and each one has within them the strengths and weaknesses that make up all of humanity. Each character exemplifies their life and reputation through the stories they tell. The Pardoner uses his tale as a ploy to garner money. His tale embodies each deadly sin, and every reader can relate to his story and feel the guilt of his characters. The Wife of Bath’s tale expresses her own ideals in the way her character is given a second chance after committing a crime. The Franklin’s tale, because of its straightforwardness and honesty is a direct representation of the Franklin’s simple and joyful life. Each character tells a tale that is a suitable match to their personality. These characters’ tales represent prevalent themes of the middle ages, including greed, corruption of religious clergymen, violence, revenge, and social status. In Chaucer’s society, the traditional feudal system was losing its importance and the middle class began to emerge. The middle class characters within the Canterbury Tales, with their personal lives and interactions with members of differing social classes, gave an understanding of the growth of society, especially the rising middle class, during medieval times.
The Canterbury Tales examines many important qualities of human nature. In the middle ages, pilgrimages were for personal reflection, atonement, and spiritual restoration. The pilgrims bonded over the course of their travels, and showed “literature as part of the texture of everyday life, as molding and being molded by human experiences, ideas, and emotions.” (Mann 21). Chaucer purposely mocks the faults in his characters, and shows the hypocrisy and deceitfulness of some of the most important members of medieval society. The Catholic Church was a paramount part of society, but was often corrupt and lacking loyalty. Oftentimes, the church was not unified in its views, and “arguments raged, and continued to rage – even into the present – , over the meaning of the Bible, over ritual, and even over church leadership” (Corrick 29). The church was extremely prosperous and extravagant, while the lower class suffered from poverty and famine. As a result, some characters of the Canterbury Tales were portrayed as being avaricious. The quest for riches and prestigious standing in the class system was a shared element between the pilgrims. Chaucer demonstrates how the pursuit of wealth and status was the key motivator and the main problem in his society. The most emphasized issue was greediness from seemingly trustworthy people. Chaucer uses ironic descriptions of the characters to reveal...

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