Analysis of characters in ‘Miller’s Tale’ Essay

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: Feb 1st, 2019

Miller’s Tale is a short but humorous narrative written in the 14th century in Britain. It belongs to a type of genres known as fabliau that were popular in France before spreading to various parts of Europe. In this type of genre, there is a great sense of realism than romance. Various characters are portrayed in a realism manner that shows an absence of magical aspects of the story.

A Comparison of characters in this narrative shows evidence of the author’s ability to use people in reflecting the society. For instance, Emily and Alison are young ladies with the roles of describing the impact of ‘feminine love interest’ in the society (Morey, 2005). Emily is initially seen from a distance and is portrayed in ghostly or vague terms.

On the other hand, Alison is depicted as a natural individual with human feelings and thoughts. She has cheerful lustiness, unlike Emily who has distinct lack of sexual enthusiasm. For instance, when praying to Diana, the Goddess of Chastity, Emily says that she wants to remain a virgin throughout her life rather than getting married. Despite this, Emily is first seen as the object of Arcite’s and Palamon’s male desires.

She seems to be out of context of the human nature at the time, unlike Alison who is willing to love and partner with Nicholas in a romantic manner (Finlayson, 2002). In addition, the two women differ in their lifestyles. For instance, while Emily is simple, Alison is pretty and dresses in a tantalizing manner. Her clothes are embroidered on both inner and outer parts.

In this context, Alison’s character is portrayed in a better and more elaborative manner than Emily’s character. This is an indication that the society of the time had high regards for women with normal human feelings and nature, especially those who were ready to marry and start families.

Nicholas is a poor student of astronomy and lives with Alison and her elderly husband, John. He enters into a romantic relationship with Alison (Morey, 2005). He craves to have sex with Alison. To have sex with her, Nicholas dupes John to sit in a bathtub on the roof of his house as a way of avoiding a natural astrological phenomenon “larger than Noah’s Floods”. While the elderly man agrees to sit on the roof, Alison and Nicholas get the chance to have sex (Finlayson, 2002).

However, Absalom visits them. Unlike the humorous and wise Nicholas, Absalom is relatively naive and foolish. He is a parish clerk but like Nicholas, he is attracted to Alison. Nicholas, despite being poor, is able to use his knowledge and intelligence to get his way. In fact, he is able to convince John, despite being older than him, to stay out of the house while he haves sex with his wife. He uses wits to get Alison, despite the fact that he does not even have a house (Finlayson, 2002).

This is in contrast to the character of Absalom. Despite having a job, he cannot convince Alison to partner with him in a romantic manner. He cannot use his knowledge to dupe the elderly man. In addition, his lifestyle is different from that of Nicholas in many ways. For instance, he curls his hair and wears leather shoes that are decorated to look like the ‘glass windows of the cathedral’. Unlike him, Nicholas seems to be a simple yet romantic young man.


Finlayson, J. (2002). The Knight’s Tale: The Dialogue of Romance, Epic, and Philosophy. The Chaucer Review, 27(2), 123-131.

Morey, J. H. (2005). The ‘Cultour’ in the ‘Miller’s Tale’: Alison as Iseult. University Park, PA: Penn State University Press.

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