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Literary Analysis of the Canterbury Tales : Depicting Genre and Literary Devices through the General Prologue


The bigger message that Chaucer is trying to put across is the struggle that was evident among different classes that he calls “estates,” during the medieval period. The importance of the social class in the prologue is to offer an intriguing comparison point to many of the individual tales told. The narration offers enlightening suggestions that are useful for the reader’s understanding of the difference among classes during Medieval Period. The prologue is allegorical in that the narrator makes use of different characters such as the Knight, the Pardoner, the Miller, and Wife of Bath among other characters to depict the eminent differences among classes.  

The Pardoner’s Tale  

In the poem “The Pardoner’s Tale,” the narrator clearly depicts his hate for the sinners all through the narration. He portrays the three young men from Belgium as being very thoughtless for engaging in a sinful life. The narrator says; “they encouraged each other to sin and would sit around and laugh/ at all the horrible things they did” (15-16). He makes use of all information necessary specifically quoting from the bible to convince the reader why the young men’s sinful life was bad. He relates sins to gluttony and drinking. The author says; “Recall, for example, how Lot unknowingly/ Had sex with his two daughters/ He was so drunken stupor and didn’t know what he was doing” (23-25). The narrator also gives an example of how gluttony through drunkenness hampers the ability of making sound decisions. From the narration, leaders too are not exemption of making poor decisions when they become gluttonous. The narrator says: 

Remember the story of Herod, the man who, when drunk

And full from feasting

Ordered John the Baptists’ execution

Even though John hadn’t done anything wrong (26-29). 

To add on his hate for gluttony and sin, the narrator gives an example of Adam and Eve were sent away from the Garden of Eden. He says:

     You see, God banished Adam and Eve from paradise to

     Live lives of misery and toil because they were gluttons

     Everything was fine in the Garden of Eden as long as 

    Adam didn’t eat anything, but they got kicked out when

     HE ate the forbidden fruit on the tree (43-47).

One of the literal devices that are evident from this narration is the use of allusion. In many instances, the narrator makes us of historical stories from the bible. These instances are used to help the reader easily recognize the negativity of engaging in gluttonous endeavors. Such stories include the use of the drunken Lot and his two daughters, Herod commanding the execution of John the Baptists, and Adam and his wife Eve being banished from the Garden of Eden.

The Wife of Bath Tale

The message that this tale intends to put across is that of transformation. That even the bad can change their ways. A good example is the use of the old hag who had transformed into a beautiful maid. This situation depicts that the true beauty lies within. This instance also represents what women desires for; to be treated fairly. The narrator’s assertion is that, whether the wife is ugly or beautiful, her husband should obey her in all things.  The narrator says; 

Some said our love to which we all aspire

Is to be free to do as we desire

With no reproof of vice but the rule

That man should say we’re wise, not one a fool (935-938). 

This statement is a pure depiction of how men, during the mediaeval times, treated women with hostility. The author says; “In every bush and under every tree/ He is the only incubus, and he/ won’t do a thing except dishonor them (879-881). The fairies are said to rape women and to impregnate them while friars are raping them with the aim of humiliating women. This is the reason behind women asking for a fair treatment from men and especially their husbands.

One of the literary devices used in this narration is imagery. The narrator presents a clear picture of how the knight on a mission struggles to discover the one thing that all women desire. His picture is well painted by the narrator as he moves from place to place in search of an answer. He even goes to the extent of enquiring an answer from his mother. He finally comes with and answer to the queen that the most common thing that women desire is “sovereignty” (1038) over their husbands and lovers. All these events are presented in a very clear way that the reader can create a mental picture of all the proceedings. 

The Miller’s Tale

The message that the tale passes on is courtly love. This is evident from the way the narration revolves around love. The young Alison is married to John; an old carpenter who is very jealous. Soon, Nicholas an astrology student falls in love with Alison. For the love that Nicholas have for Alison, they play a trick to John so as to get him out of the house that night. We can also see how Nicholas loves Alison with intensity. The narrator says

 And crudely, he caught her by her vagina

     And said “surely, unless I have my way

 For secret love of thee, sweetheart, I perish”

  And held her sensually by the groins (1202-1205) 

One of the literal devices that the narrator utilizes is analogy. He uses the example of the time of Noah to depict the amount of rain that will rain. This is an analogy used to compare the circumstances that led to the flood. Promiscuity that is also evident in Mediaeval Period was one of the causes of the great flood. The narrator uses this device to establish a relationship grounded on the likeness of the two periods; the time of Noah and Medieval Period. 


In conclusion, Middle Ages societies are depicted to have been characterized by many shortcomings in their way of doing things. Chaucer as the author is very significant in airing the concerns of the period. Some of these concerns as one would point them out are; mistreatment of women, promiscuity, and gluttony. The purpose that this poem served in the Middle Ages is to point out the most crucial areas where the society needed to transform for better. The impact of the tales is that they led to some improvements in some areas such as how the society treated and constructed women.           

Works Cited

Chaucer, Geoffrey. “The Miller’s Tale.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Middle Ages. Ed. M.H, Abrams. 235-255. 8th ed. Vol. 1A. New York: Norton & Company, 2000. Print.

Chaucer, Geoffrey. “The Pardoner’s Tale.” Rpt. In Adventures in English Literature: Pegasus Edition. Eds. William Keach, et. Al. Orlando: Harcourt Brace Jaovanovich, Publishers, 1989. 82-87. Print.

Chaucer, Geoffrey. “The Wife of Bath Tale.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Middle Ages. Ed. M.H, Abrams. 257-281. 8th ed. Vol. 1A. New York: Norton & Company, 2000. Print.

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