The Canterbury Tales Gender Essay Research

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The Canterbury Tales Gender Essay, Research Paper Most of the Canterbury tales emphasize men and women and the roles that they play. Specifically in marriage, Geoffrey Chaucer has etched out a tradition of literary brilliance. He has taken it upon himself to reverse roles and give women favor over the men. In this way, Chaucer is considered as a pioneer. In several of his tales women are aggressive, self-willed, and powerful. Some of Chaucer s male characters are against tradition too. Men in the Chaucer s tales are passive, na ve, and weak. Not all the men in the tales are as I just described, but enough of them are in order to make a literary impact. Two excellent examples of Chaucer s reversed roles appear in two excellent tales, The Wife Of Bath s Tale and The Miller s

Tale. In these tales we see men who must solve riddles, men who sleep in tubs above houses, and men who get what they deserve. Many authors are influenced by this new way of displaying male and female roles. We can see the impact of Chaucer s work in other texts where female characters are liberated and influential. In the novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, we see another example of a woman who is aggressive and self-willed. We even see a man who is reliant and passive. Before we take a look at Bronte s female character, we need to revert back to Chaucer. In The Wife Of Bath s Tale the first female character introduced in very controversial. The wife of bath is a woman who has been married five times. She expresses this openly without any shame. It is almost like she is proud

of it. My Lords, since when I was but twelve years old,/ Five husbands have I had at the church door; (Chaucer 258). A woman of that time was usually looked down upon if she were a widow. Men assisted widows in time of need, but they would never consider marrying them. The fact alone that she has had five husbands liberates her from women of her time. Then she goes on to say that she will take on a sixth husband when he comes along. Blessed be God that I have wedded five!/ Welcome the sixth, whenever he appears (259). The wife of bath is a woman who knows what she wants. She does not need a man to dictate her feelings for her. So, in her story we see similar women and men who depend upon them. Shortly into the tale we read about a rape. One day as he came riding from the river He

saw a maiden walking all forlorn Ahead of him, alone as she was born. And of that maiden, spite of all she said,By very force he took her maidenhead. (282) Although the incident occurs when a man violates a woman, the act also puts the man at the mercy of women for the rest of the tale. It is also important to see that the knight is weak for what he has done. Men in this tale display weakness by allowing their flesh to control them. When the knight raped the maiden, he did just that. After the knight was condemned to death by the king for his crime, the queen takes pity on him and decides to spare his life. But that queen, and other ladies too,/ Implored the king to exercise his grace (282). Not only does the queen want to spare his life but other women do too. This implies that

the knight will always be at the mercy of women. Then, as if to emphasize the knight s dependency, the queen tells him that he must solve her riddle in order to live. The queen asks, What is the thing that women most desire? If the knight is unable to answer the riddle in twelvemonth and a day, then he will loose his head. It is meaningful that the riddle centers on the will of women. In solving this riddle, the knight spends a year of his life in a passive state searching for the desires of women. On the same note, the women are dominant as they fill his ears with things they want the most. The knight becomes even more dependant upon women, as he gets more desperate to solve the riddle. On the last day of his quest to answer the question, the knight comes across an old woman in