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Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales – The Miller’s Tale and the Life of Christ

The Miller’s Tale and the Life of Christ

When Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales, he created a great majority of the individual tales by “borrowing” and reworking material from various sources. Most of these stories would have been very familiar to his medieval audience, and the changes he made in the standard version of these tales for his work would have been a form of tacit communication that would have added an extra dimension to each of them. Howard says that “… the tales possess a relatedness of their own within a world of other texts. They can be understood only with reference to shared formulas of language or generic traits…” (448). In the Miller’s tale Chaucer parodies the Knight’s Tale, which itself was “adapted from a longer tale … from Italy … from Boccaccio” (Howard 448), by combining and satirizing highly irreverent references to the life of Jesus Christ with the story of Oedipus to make the tale as bawdy and comical as possible.

The Miller’s tale introduces a carpenter, John, his wife, Alison, and a student lodger, Nicholas. The identification of John as a carpenter immediately causes the audience to relate these characters to another famous carpenter and his wife, namely, Joseph and Mary from the Bible. (quote) The character of John is similar to Joseph not only because of their shared profession, but also because of the shared situations with their wives before marriage. Chaucer mentions how it was a rather rash move for John to marry Alison, a woman much younger than he. He says “He might have known, were Cato on his shelf,/A man should marry someone like himself” (89). Just as Joseph was wary of marrying Mary because she was already pregnant such that he “did not want to expose her to p…

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…t flood, cuts loose the ropes holding his tub to the ceiling and falls to the ground, breaking his arm in the process. The ridicule that John receives from the neighbors who have been told by Alison and Nicholas that he is insane, serves to create enough of a triumph as to symbolize Christ’s resurrection. The triumph would not have been nearly as dramatic if it had merely consisted of Nicholas’s recovery or Absalon’s defeat because it would not have fulfilled Nicholas’s main goal of “killing” his father and “marrying” his mother.

Works Cited

Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. England: Penguin Books, 1977.

Howard, Donald R. Chaucer: His Life, His Works, His World. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1987.

New International Version. Holy Bible. Michigan: Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1988.

Wilson, A. N. Jesus: A Life. New York: W. W. Norton

Literacy in Song of Solomon, Life of Frederick Douglass, Push and Slave Narratives

Exploration of Language and Literacy in Song of Solomon, Life of Frederick Douglass, Push and Slave Narratives

African-Americans have been contributing to American literature for hundreds of years. From Gustavus Vassa, or Olaudah Equiano, in 1789 to Sapphire in 1996, writers have been telling their stories. The influence of minority writers and speakers on literature, literacy, and language is certainly notable.

First of all, black American literature helps “others” hear the minority voice and vicariously share the minority experience. The typical white reader cannot understand what the black race undergoes on a daily and generational basis; however, literature can bring the white reader into the minority’s world by tapping into the reader’s imagination and sympathies.

The main purpose of the slave narratives is to let readers share the slaves’ experiences, and as a result elicit sympathies so that the reader will consider, and hopefully act upon, abolitionist ideals. In the preface to Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, William Lloyd Garrison writes about Douglass and the white northerners “whose sympathy and affection he has strongly secured by the many sufferings he has endured, …whose minds he has enlightened on the subject of slavery, and who have been melted to tears by his pathos, or roused to virtuous indignation by his stirring eloquence against the enslavers of men” (ix). Douglass was certainly aware of his mission to agitate the public mind and win the hearts of others (xii). He achieved this purpose through his voice unwaveringly telling the pitiful story of his slave experiences. How could his audience turn a deaf ear to such eloquence and power?

Like Douglass, Sapphire shares the minority experience with the privileged population. She achieves this feat through the character Precious and her unique voice. The minority voice is distinct and unavoidable, for it is the voice that narrates the story. For example, Precious contrasts her life experiences with the dominant class’s experiences: “What is a normal life? A life where you not ‘shamed of your mother. Where your friends come over after school and watch TV and do homework. Where your mother is normal looking and don’t hit you over the head wif iron skillet. I would wish for in my fantasy a second chance. Since my first chance go to Mama and Daddy” (Sapphire 114-115). These powerful statements from the voice of an eighteen year old African-American girl bring the white reader into the reality of the life of the minority.

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