The Canterbury Tales: Applying Chaucer's Criticism to Modern Society

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The Canterbury Tales: Applying Chaucer's Criticism to Modern Society

It is not hard to apply Chaucer's description of the greedy doctor to today's medical system, nor is it difficult to find modern-day people with equivalent personalities to those of many of Chaucer's other characters. However, it is the institutions of his time as well as their flaws and hypocrisies that Chaucer is most critical of; he uses the personalities of his characters primarily to highlight those flaws. The two institutions that he is most critical of have lost much, if not all, of their influence; in many instances, the Church has only slight hold on the lives and attitudes of the people as a whole, and the strict feudal system has entirely disappeared. Few institutions today are as clearly visible and universally influential as those two forces were in the Middle Ages, so, if Chaucer were writing his tales today, he would most likely turn to the hypocritical attitudes of the general populace and the idiosyncracies of our daily lives. He gives some emphasis to these in the Tales (for example, he mentions the prioress's ladylike compassion for even the smallest creature in the Prologue, but has her tell an anti-Semitic tale later), but, in today's American culture, he would be most likely to criticize businessmen, middle-class parents, and the demand formust instantaneous gratification.

One of the things Chaucer would be most likely to point out about many big- businessmen would be the hypocrisy of their supposed love of sports. To truly love sports implies a similar love of sportsmanship, fairness, and equality competition. In a marketplace where one technology company takes another's product, reverse-engineers it (to avoid infringing on copyrights and patents), then sells it as its own, where is the sportsmanship? When that second company is already larger and has wider market contacts and greater marketing budgets, there is also no fairness. As for equality in the workplace and job-market, with age, gender and racial discrimination, that is difficult to find, too. The reason Chaucer would criticize the businessmen on the top as well as the institution itself would be because, since they are in positions of power, they can change things. Some try to; others more often don't.

Another case is that of the middle-class parent who protests the deterioration of school standards, decries the loss of national morals, and ironically neglects his or her own child.
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