In Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Chaucer opens with a description of twenty-nine people who are going on a pilgrimage. Each person has a distinct personality that relates to the way people behave today. He purposely makes The Wife of Bath stand out more compared to the other characters. In Chaucers "General Prologue", the Wife of Bath is intentionally described in an explicit way to provoke a shocking response. Her dressing, physical features and references to her past, are purposely discussed by Chaucer causing the reader to wonder how well she fits the rules imposed by Christian authority regarding womanly behavior. Women were categorized as saints or sinners by their actions according to Christian tradition. There were two women who portrayed the fact of being a sinner or a saint. Eve was the one who caused the downfall of all men " supposedly" where as the Virgin Mary, the mother of Christ symbolized purity. She is a headstrong bold woman of her time. She shows off her Sunday clothes with evident pride, including ten pounds of big elegant hats, and finely textured veils worn on her head. Her clothing symbolizes to the reader that she is not timid or shy as other women during her time and also showed off her expertise as a weaver.
Chaucers discusses his words to describe the Wife quite distinctly. His descriptions of her facial and bodily features are sexually suggestive. The features that Chaucer pays more attention in describing Alison should be noticed. In the "General Prologue", Chaucer's description involves her physical appearance describing her clothes, legs, feet, hips, and most importantly her gap-tooth, which during that time according to The Wife, symbolized sensuality and lust. He discusses how she is a talented weaver and devoted Christian who goes on pilgrimages often. This may throw off the reader into believing that she is a religious woman, but later on sees that her reason to go on these pilgrimages is not due to religion. She feels that every place should be seen; this has nothing to due with religion. She is a very self-confident woman who thinks highly of herself and her skills as a cloth maker. The ironic part is when Chaucer adds that she has a gap between her teeth. During the fourteenth century having a gap between the teeth was symbolic to a sensual nature. She is more interested in love than anything that has do with homemaking. He also emphasizes that she had "Housbondes at chirche dore she hadde five" (Norton 92), which meant that she had been married five times. She was also described as "of remedies of love she knew parchance" (Norton 92). She knew all about the remedies of love since she was so experienced. This outlook of a woman during that time did not agree with the image of a pure, devoted Christian pilgrim according to the Church or the Christian ethics. One other important element in the portrayal of the Wife is that she is deaf in one ear.
In both "The Wife of Baths Prologue" and "Tale", the Wife of Bath discusses marriage, virginity, and most importantly the question of sovereignty. In the "Wife of Bath's Tale" Alison is suggesting control. She is a strong-willed and dominant woman who gets what she wants when she wants it. She cannot accept defeat no matter what the cost. She feels that this is the way things should be and men should obey her. She should not be controlled or told what to do by others, especially a man. It seems to be that she is yearning for others, especially men to bow to her and is seeking for ultimate power over them. She displays a very sick and power-thirsty attitude when she says, "In wifhood wol I use myn instrument as freely as my Makere hath it sent. If I be dangerous, God yive me sorwe: myn housbonder shal it han both eve and morwe whan that him list come forth and pay his dette. An housbonde wol I have, I wol nat lette, which shal be bother my dettour and mt thral, and have his tribulacion withal upon his flesh whil that I am his wif" (Norton 120). She is boldly saying that she wants to use her "instrument" or body as a weapon and that she owns her husband. She powerfully claims that her husband owes her. Since she is his wife she fells he should bow to her. She is not like any other woman of that time because no woman would dare say that she would use her sexuality as a weapon, claiming that a man is her slave and he owes him. To me, even in this modern day, Alisons attitude disgusts me. I, as a woman, no matter how bad men are, would claim that a man should be a womans slave.The Wife of Bath believes that having experience is the greatest authority, and since she has been married five times, she certainly considers herself an authority on the remedies of love. She feels that she knows everything there is to know on love and sex. She uses the bible as a tool to commend her behavior. The Wife discusses her lives with her five husbands. She discusses how she had control over all four of her husbands saying "I governed hem so wel after my lawe, (Norton 122) which indicated that she governed them according to her law or her way. Later on she says "For God it woot, I chidde hem spitously (Norton122). She is a woman in thirst of attention, not only sexually, but as a person as well. It destroys her when her fifth husband, a clerk, was more interested in books than he was in her.
Since she craves superiority so much, in a sense it gets her excited when she does not establish supremacy over her fifth husband because she seems to like challenges. While he is reading a novel on how bad women are she snatches the book and rips some pages. This instantly heats up her husband and he hits her. This is how she becomes deaf. She pretends to be dead trying to make him feel guilty by putting on a self-pitying act. She is very twisted because her concern is not to make him understand what he did wrong, but to use her helplessness as away of achieving power and authority over him.
Alison is not a woman who cared about the benefit of other women who are subordinate to men. She is not a feminist fighting for the rights of all women. She claims to know what pleasures men because she is experienced. She believes in giving men what they desire, which is sexual pleasure from her. This proves that she is not fighting for liberation of women. This is definitely a non-feministic view. The reason this is cannot be perceived as non-feministic action is because the she openly is saying that she will give herself to the man. Giving in to the man's desire goes against feministic beliefs. Alison has a choice of not giving in to the man, but she decides to let the man attain his sexual pleasure for his desire not hers because she has experienced sex before and she knows how much men enjoy it. This quotation obviously goes against feministic beliefs, confusing the reader. At first the reader might think that she is trying to win women freedom and liberation. She herself says that women are the cause of men's suffering. Her reasons are selfish filled with greed of sex and control on all men. I cannot in any sense relate to a person like her because she is an extremely selfish, power-hungry, and immoral woman. Her whole character revolves around her craving for sex and her urge to give men pleasures by sex. Even in a modern society today, no person will feel her actions are justified.
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