In the Dictionary of Literary Terms, Harry Shaw states, “In effective narrative literature, fictional persons, through characterization, become so credible that they exist for the reader as real people.” (1) Looking at Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders (2) and Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko (3) the reader will find it difficult to make this definition conform to Moll and Behn’s narrator. This doesn’t mean that Defoe’s and Behn’s work is ‘ineffective’, but there is indeed a difficulty: it is the claim of truth. Defoe in his preface states, “The Author is here suppos’d to be writing her own History.” (Moll Flanders, p. 1) and Behn claims, “I was myself an eye-witness to a great part, of what you will find here set down, and what I could not be witness of, I received from the mouth of the chief actor in this history, the hero himself, (…)” (Oroonoko, 75)
Although both authors claim their stories are true, and thereby that their characters are realistic, there seems to be a gap between the authors’ claims and the “reality” of the characterization. This question is closely connected to the fact that both novels belong to the earliest English novels. There was no fixed tradition that the authors worked in; instead the novel was in the process of being established. The question arises whether the two works lack a certain roundness in their narrators.
The main characteristic of the new literary form of the novel according to Ian Watt is “truth to individual experience” (4) and its new shape is created by a focus on the individual character. He is presented in a specific definition of time and space. The second section of this paper will show how far this is realized in both of the novels. In the third section I want to analyze the characters’ individualism in connection with the claim to truth and their complexity in description.
Watt argues that the characters in a novel owe their individuality to the realistic presentation. “Realism” is expressed by a rejection of traditional plots, by particularity, emphasis on the personality of the character, a consciousness of duration of time and space and its expression in style.
2.1 Rejection of traditional plots
Watt states that, “Previous literary forms had reflected the general tendency of their cultures to make conformity to traditional practice the major test of truth: .
The Role of Quiting in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales
The Role of “Quiting” in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales
In Chaucer’s, The Canterbury Tales, many characters express the desire to “pay back” some other pilgrim for their tale. The function of “quiting” gives us insights into the ways in which Chaucer painted the social fabric of his world. The characters of the Knight, the Miller, and the Reeve, all seem to take part in a tournament of speech. The role of “quiting” in The Canterbury Tales serves to “allow the characters themselves to transcend their own social class, and class-based moral expectations, in order to gain power over people of “higher” social strata.”(Hallissy 41)
Throughout each prologue of the first three tales, we can see a clear description of the social rank of each speaker. The Knight is clearly the person to start the Tale cycle, as he belongs to the highest class of all the Pilgrims. By following the Knight, the Miller usurps the Monk’s privilege to tell the next tale, and begins one of his own. The Miller is allowed by the Host to use the pretense of being drunk, and proceeds to tell a story which goes against social conventions by poking fun at the rules and regulations of a higher social class. The Reeve then follows the Miller’s Tale with one of his own. Osewold tries to “quit” the Miller’s Tale by telling the story concerning Symkyn. The progression from the Knight to the Miller to the Reeve, gives us a picture of three very different class-levels. Through their speech, however, the lower-class characters of the Miller and Reeve are allowed to comment and pass judgement on people without fear of the socially-constructed class system.
In his Prologue, the Miller seems to be driven by a kind of anger directed at the ending of the Knight’s s…
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…o meaning within the world of the mind. A lowly Miller has as much right to “quit” a Knight as anyone does. The battle instead, becomes one of inner strength, where the contestants are not defined by social roles, but by the quality and passion of their beliefs.
Works Cited and Consulted
Brewer, Derek. Tradition and Innovation in Chaucer. London: Macmillan, 1982.
Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. In the Riverside Chaucer. Larry D. Benson, ed. Boston: Houghton, 1987.
Cooper, Helen. “Deeper into the Reeve’s Tale, 1395-1670.” Pp. 168-184. In Chaucer Traditions: Studies in Honour of Derek Brewer. Ruth Morse and Barry Windeatt, eds. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1990.
Delasanta, Rodney. “The Miller’s Tale Revisited.” Chaucer Review 31.3 (1997), 209-231.
Hallissy, Margaret. Codes of Conduct in The Canterbury Tales. Connecticut: Greenwood, 1993.