Struggle For Female Equality in Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale

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Struggle For Female Equality in The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale When Chaucer wrote the Canterbury Tales, the social structure of his world was changing rapidly. Chaucer himself was a prime example of new social mobility being granted to members of the emerging middle class. He had opportunities to come into contact not only with earthy characters from varied ports of call, but with the wealthy nobility. He was also married to a knight's daughter, someone of higher birth than himself, a clear demonstration of a more lenient class structure (pp. 76 - 77*). As a member of this changing society, Chaucer had a keen perception of the attitudes and philosophies which were emerging and shaping the roles specific to people's lives. Among these were ideas and customs which had dictated extremely subservient lives for women. One of his characters, the Wife of Bath, contradicts many of these oppressive customs and asserts her own overbearing assessment of the roles of women in society and in relationships. However, while apparently attempting to assert female dominance over men, the effect the Wife desires is to bring men and women to a more balanced level of power. No attempt to change the minds of others with regard to social order could possibly be effective without a statement of the shortcomings of the current order. This is where the Wife may often be written off as a shrew-like bombast simply spouting her dissatisfaction. She does, however, state several clever examples of how her society currently treats women unfairly. She states that double standards for women and men are too common and are deeply rooted in culture. She says that the teachings of Christ tell her, "That by the same ensample taughte he m... ... middle of paper ... ...omes to a rest in the middle. The wife explains that she and her husband no longer fought and that they lived in peace until he passed on. The knight, by letting down his guard to the hag, also gains wedded bliss. Of course the wife has to explain the circumstances which make the world unfair for women. This makes her case for equality even more convincing to anyone who appreciates fairness. Nevertheless, the ultimate goal for her is not merely to engage in man bashing. Therefore, writing off the wife as merely bombastic, lewd and domineering is only skimming the surface of her obviously deeper mental waters. Underneath the rhetoric and clever reasoning is a more sensitive person who understands the value of balancing the power in relationships. Works Cited The Norton Anthology of English Literature.6th ed. v1. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1993.
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