Chaucer The Pilgrim

Essay by EssaySwap ContributorHigh School, 12th grade February 2008

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In his essay "Chaucer the Pilgrim," E. Talbot Donaldson argues that Chaucer the Pilgrim is neither Chaucer the Poet, nor Chaucer the Civil Servant. He is a character among a large group of full-bodied caricatures. However, as a reporter, he is "acutely unaware of the significance of what he sees, no matter how sharply he sees it."(485) To back up his thesis, Donaldson cites the pilgrim's treatment of the various disparate folks that Chaucer encounters on his pilgrimage. His admiration of the Prioress, and others, comes from a "wide eyed wonder at the glamour of the great world."(486) Concerning the Friar, "whether Chaucer the man would have liked such a [man] is, for our present purposes, irrelevant."(487) Also, in a more extreme sense of wonder, Chaucer the pilgrim, concerning "rascality," displays an "ungrudging admiration for efficient thievery."(488) What accounts for this "cutting of slack" that Chaucer the reporter allows for the sometimes obviously conventionally immoral folk that people his group? Donaldson proposes that Chaucer the pilgrim is "mankind," and admires all types of "superlatives," whether they pertain to virtuous folk or unseemly characters.

(489) He is ordinary, human, and often naïve. One result of Chaucer the pilgrim's fallible perspective is "moral realism," a kind of "myopia" that keeps the presentation of the pilgrim's point of view from becoming too wise, too insightful. (490) Chaucer the pilgrim, created by Chaucer the poet, is able, through his naïveté, to present the "incongruous and inharmonious parts [of the other pilgrims] into an inseparable whole which is infinitely greater than its parts."(492) Donaldson's interpretation of Chaucer the pilgrim allows this characters point of view to be as original as the lives of the other pilgrims. By separating the poet, civil servant, and pilgrim, the fresh, more poignant device of the persona adds an extra layer to the poem, leaving the question as to how, or if, Chaucer the poet felt about his fellow pilgrims really adds anything to the story as an isolated text. Too much speculation about the historical Chaucer might lend itself to an inchoate understanding of the Canterbury Tales as a good story, with a fictional narrator and rich cast of human characters.

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