Canterbury Tales Essay - The Assertive and Vulnerable Wife of Bath

Canterbury Tales Essay - The Assertive and Vulnerable Wife of Bath

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The Assertive and Vulnerable Wife of Bath


Society was different in Chaucer's time; males dominated and women were suppressed.  The manipulative and destructive nature of women was emphasized by men. Much like Eve in the Bible, women were blamed for the 'downfall of man'. Through the Wife of Bath, Chaucer investigates the difficulty of self-realization for a woman in this restrictive environment.  The wife of bath, Alison, represents antifeminist stereotypes and searches for happiness and a place in a patriarchal society.  Unfortunately, Alison is never in tune with who she really is as a woman.  Chaucer uses a series of ironies to eventually show that under her seemingly confident guise, there hides the soul of a vulnerable, lost woman.

The Wife of Bath argues in favor of women.  She disparages the works of the male scholars that denigrate women.  Using her "savage lion" analogy, she reasons that "if women had but written the stories", then such negative portrayals would not exist.  Therefore, at first, the Wife of Bath appears to be in favor of women's rights.  Ironically, the Wife of bath does not help women, her actions coinciding with the scholars' accusations. Alison DOES dress gaily, with her stockings of "fine scarlet red".  The color red is indicative of a quarrelsome, bold lady, as is the symbol of the gap in her teeth, to indicate licentiousness.  When she goes "walking out by night", and "followed on my appetite, Whether the lad was short, long, black, or white."(275), the Wife does prove to be adulterous.  In relationships with her husbands, the wife IS devious and deceitful, making up accusations to pre-empt any on the part of the husbands. Therefore, while on one level attempting to protest the "negative s...


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...son into obedience, and has been the partner who dominates and controls all along.  Her efforts to find true happiness are futile, and she lives a lie.

The Wife of Bath is admirable in that she is assertive and has attempted to succeed in her life. Despite being a woman of the fourteenth century, her ideas, beliefs, and actions are more like a woman of the twenty-first century. She is truly a woman ahead of her time. Unfortunately, her restrictive environment prevented her from self-realization.  Therefore, she fails to effectively cope with and change her situation.  The wife of bath is a sad, lost woman, who used the wrong methods to find true love and happiness.  Hiding behind a confident mask, this woman is never truly free. 

Works Cited:

Chaucer, Geoffrey.“The Wife of Bath’s Tale.” The Canterbury Tales.Trans. Nevill Coghill. New York: Penguin, 1977.

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