The Carpenter’s Wife
During the telling of “The Miller's Tale” within The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer goes to great lengths to describe the character of Alison, the carpenter's wife. This is done not only so readers will have a detailed physical portrayal of her in their minds, but also so they can make inferences as to her character by the way she chooses to presents herself. The vivid depiction of Alison implies that she has very little value except as an object to be used for sexual gain by men. Furthermore, the lengthy, highly descriptive examination of her character when weighed against the almost nonexistent description of her husband creates such a contrast that the reader feels as if it is wrong for the two to be together.
Chaucer begins by very briefly detailing the aspects of herself that she has no control over: she is 18 years old, fair, slender, and delicate. He follows this with a description of each article of ...view middle of the document...
The unstained white of her apron and undergarments give her the outward appearance of purity, while the reader knows that internally she is far from pure.
Following the account of Alison's clothing comes a brief personality description. Rather than humanize her, the personalities attributed to her give her an animalistic nature. She is compared to a calf in the way she enjoys skipping and playing games, and then to a colt because of her skittishness and high spirits. Her voice is also said to be as sweet as any bird's, and she is compared to a “pimerole, a piggesnye” (line 160), all three of which were animal traits considered desirable in a woman at the time. Adding to her dehumanization are lines between the detailing of her clothing and those of her personality that describe her as more aesthetically pleasing “than is the newe perejonette tree” (line 140). Even though she is depicted as something between animal and object, Chaucer by no means considers her worthless. On the contrary, he describes her as having a radiance that is brighter, and therefore more desirable, than gold.
Upon completing the full description of Alison, the reader is left with the overall impression that such a woman could never be meant to be kept inside by her much older husband. It then becomes practically expected for the young scholar to steal her away from the always jealous carpenter, and it makes Nicholas's actions seem to be the right and natural thing to do, cementing his role as the story's hero.
Chaucer, Geoffrey. “The Miller’s Prologue and Tale.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Volume A The Middle Ages. 8th ed. New York: W. W. Norton, 2005. 239-55. Print.
Forbes, Shannon “‘To Alison Now Wol I Tellen Al My Love-Longing’: Chaucer’s Treatment of the Courtly Love Discourse in The Miller’s Tale.” Women’s Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 36.1 (2007): 1-14. MLA International Bibliography. EBSCO. Web. 7 Oct. 2009.
Jordan, Tracey “Fairy Tale and Fabliau: Chaucer’s The Miller’s Tale.” Studies in Short Fiction 21.2 (1984): 87-93. MLA International Bibliography. EBSCO. Web. 7 Oct. 2009.