Analysis Of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Realism In The Prologue To The Canterbury Tales

June 23, 2022 by Essay Writer

Geoffrey Chaucer is the well-known poet of 14th century. He depicted all the possible realities of his era through his writing, so he is also known as a realist. He observed the world with a sharp and keen eye. He collected minute details about everything and portrayed it through his poetry. A successful realist is he, who uses his personal experience of life in his works. Chaucer is the well- known successful realist, who conveys full fledge picture of his era in his masterpiece “THE PROLOGUE TO THE CANTERBERY TALES”. He does not believe in regional sentimentalism and imagination. His style shows that he clearly rejects the notion of 14th century’s typical medieval romances. He gives the physical, psychological and emotional details about different characters belonging to different professions. Chaucer took delight in showing the mirror to his people. He was a silent reformer, who did not actually want to reform the world through his writing but the indirect and critical interpretation of his work shows that he is giving a hidden message to the world. Chaucer uses the reference of twenty-nine pilgrims to show the corruption of whole England. His depiction of reality is very much evident in his portrait of the Knight, as he has not rejected the good while depicting the sordid side of the society.  Chaucer is such a brave person, who took steps to expose evil of the time. He shows the corrupt moral practices of 14th century. He describes that the Church, which reforms the people, was also being used to manipulate people. His character sketch of Pardoner shows that corruption was prevailed in every sphere of life. Chaucer draws the picture of “Prioress”, she is a nun basically, but she even does not know about the responsibilities of a nun. His Monk is busy in hunting.

There is no morality, as shown in the character portrait of Wife of Bath. The only character, which seems to be worthy, is Knight. Chaucer speaks truth and truth remains unchanged. As we can see 14th century’s Knight, Prioress, Monk, Squire and scholar in our society also. His representation of truth and reality is very important, because he uses the references of living beings. A reader feels familiar with his characters as the style is based on facts. And facts always appeal to human nature. Chaucer has masterly created a picture of living century through his wonderful style. He uses personal experience in his writing and even does not add the color of his personality.  He remains objective observer of all the happenings and rejects the subjective approach. Chaucer is expert in drawing different pictures of people of whole England by using only twenty-nine pilgrims. He shows that even the characters are going toward a sacred religious journey but they are narrating immoral tales. Chaucer attacks clearly on the lively ecclesiastic characters due to their immoral practices. All of them except Knight, are in pretending mode. Chaucer used the outer personality of the people to expose their inner personality. He gives the keen explanations about characters which are concrete in nature. So Chaucer creates real images in his poetry. One can feel all the characters in his own society. There was lust of love, power and wealth everywhere.  Chaucer is neither in the mood of glorifying the virtue nor did he like to condemn the vice.    

 He records every happening of the era in his writing but remains in the background. Chaucer can be termed as an impartial interpreter of the world or life. Human beings are shown as the mixture of virtues and vices. Chaucer is expert at giving the references. He gives references, which are very near to us. We can meet his Squire even today in any military academy. Even today, his doctor of Phisik is in the same business, he wants to earn money as much as possible. In our society, three friends of Pardoner’s tale can be found everywhere. Chaucer explains the evenly distributed light and shade. There exists an honest Parish Priest and poor Oxford Scholar along with corrupt Friar, immoral Prioress and corrupt Monk in every society. Chaucer was the man of gigantic genius, who added the physical trades of characters in his writing. He does not only focus on intellectual spheres by using the tool of communication but also satires on their physical features.

For example, cut beard, baldness and ulcer on the shin are the features added for the characters’ descriptions which provide us references to their corruption, immorality and referring towards punishment. Chaucer collects minute details as gap between the teeth of Wife of Bath, Miller’s big face and table manners of Prioress. Chaucer is an artist and his artistic qualities are much evident about his super genius as he creates the clear copies of reality by using his own medium of construction. Realism lies in his depiction of exact physical and psychological traits’ creation.  A realist never adds his point of view in his depiction as Chaucer creates original and actual pictures of 14th century, being impersonal from the characters. Although he uses his autobiographical touches at certain points but his ultimate purpose is not to sustain the writing with the color of his own personality, he only gives actual evidence of existence of different characters in 14th century along with him. His sense of observation is really appreciable as he uses the color of hair of different characters along with the symbolism. For example, gray color shows the darkness and lack of moral standards of those people.

No doubt, Chaucer is a universally accepted realist of 14th century but he presents an oriented masterpiece “THE PROLOGUE TO THE CANTERBURY TALES”, which is full of ironical, satirical, humorous and sarcastic lines. He uses different devices to depict the world as he sees it. He took the subject of showing the mirror to 14th century’s corrupt people, in which they could see the clear faces. He neither added any sort of fake information about those characters nor did he miss a single spot. Chaucer loves nature and nature is always original and true, because it never changes. He starts Canterbury Tales with the seasonal representation of spring. He creates living atmosphere in which everyone can imagine flying birds, sleeping birds with opened eyes and beautiful flowering time. Realistic description appeals to the basic instinct of people. According to him wine, women and music are the main sources of destruction of morality. He says that evil is lying in the nature of human beings. He is an intellectual fellow, who has rationality and wisdom in his soul. Through the mirrors of his instinct, Chaucer makes the people aware that they are not having any sort of ethical and moral aspects in their personalities. Every possible wrong doing of the era is clearly defined in Chaucer’s work.     

He is such an expressive writer, who does not feel shy in mentioning their extra marital affairs and their interest in sex and immoral activities. He also shows religious guides busy in pomp and show. He gives the picture of a multidimensional society, which have multidimensional individuals in it and everybody is busy in unethical, immoral and sub-standard business. Chaucer tells that all ecclesiastic characters are following the Epicurean Philosophy, which is quiet contrary to the real demand from them as being ideals of the state. He is such a clever interpreter of that ere, who even does not forget to mention about the hounds and pets, kept by different characters. He describes that in 14th century pets were getting superiority over the humanity. Even “Prioress” was unaware of humanity’s misery.  Chaucer gives sharp overview of complex variety of individuals. His pilgrims are the strange mixture of good and evil. Everybody is having his own liking and disliking. Chaucer can be truthfully said as a fair practitioner of thematic device. All of the characters have emotion like us as they can swear, shout, weep, laugh and smile. In doing so, Chaucer develops an association among all the readers and characters.

So, Chaucer’s poetry has a permanent value.  Chaucer’s extraordinary insight is seen in the way he formulates his poetry. His writing is neither a mere document about medieval romance nor a sequenced analysis of supernatural or metaphysical creature. He brings in contact his keen sense of observation and really existing phenomena. He discusses living men and women and lays stress on middle society. He had the ability to write finely about monsters and angels but he took delight in discussing the human nature. In this way, he proves himself to be a realist. He narrates directly about the characters who give feminine touch like Pardoner etc. He depicts the characters in a solid, novel and original manner. He gives a realistic exposure to his vision of eye. Chaucer works with the surfaces and unveils all the evils of the society.  

Chaucer speaks of moral realism and merges it with philosophical approach. He concludes that tolerant and charitable view of human fragilities, foibles and follies should be taken. He provides a point of view to the readers and asks them to develop a humanistic approach toward life. He has successfully summarized all the evils of 14th century in “THE PROLOGUE TO THE CANTERBURY TALES”. His focus is on the real characters and their mentality, their perceptions and their psychological perspective. He does not ignore their dresses because he wants to tell the people of other centuries that 14th century was no more different from them. There was the climax of corruption and immorality, which ultimately left its impression on all other ages. All the personalities were pretending. They seem to be real in their appearances but actually they were having mask personalities. Chaucer justifies his realistic point of view, when a reader of “Canterbury Tales’’ feels himself standing among 14th century characters even in 21st century. He depicts those aspects of personality which can be imaginatively perceived by the reader. Chaucer breaks away from the traditions and conventions. He does not express medieval romances in his poetry. His broader view is centered upon the nature and human nature is the embodiment of corruption, even the professions cannot change it.     

He tells about generation gap, which is very much prominent in our society. There was conflict, prevailed in every sphere of life. People were mentally dissatisfied. The youth represented by Chaucer in the form of Squire, was not having clear and defined goals in mind. Same is the case with youth of modern society. He shows the reality about ambiguous and unclear goals in 14th century’s youth by using gray color. Geoffrey Chaucer draws the picture of religious reformers in an artistic manner as Pardoner demanding for bribe. There are so many reformers of this type in modern society, who take bribe and manipulate people on the name of religion. Adherence of religion is very common in every sphere of life. Nobody can deny from the fact that Chaucer conveyed the images to the words honestly.  He was sympathetic with the victims of evil but did not colored the expressions with suggestions. His pilgrims are as alive today as they were at the road of Canterbury. Geoffrey Chaucer did not write for his age but for all the subsequent ages.

A true dramatic sense can be seen in Chaucer’s personality. He discussed human emotions and emotions could not change for more than last two thousand years because these are universal.  His appeal is universal. It can be said that Chaucer is responsible for reforming the world through his poetry as no other poet has put an effort of showing mirror to people. He attacked immorality and corruption in Church and private sector. He beautified his vision with keen sense of observation. He used his genius in a right way and clearly broke away from the traditions, which promoted unethical values. His hard work and honesty is revealed through his characterization. His approach is real in its true sense. A realist never talks about the non-existing phenomena and Chaucer follows all the regulations in portraying the characters so Geoffrey Chaucer is a successful authenticity interpreter.  


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