One of the most interesting and widely interpreted characters in The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer is the Wife of Bath. She has had five different husbands and openly admits to marrying the majority of them for their money. The wife appears to be more outspoken and independent than most women of medieval times, and has therefore been thought to symbolize the cause of feminism; some even refer to her as the first actual feminist character in literature. Readers and scholars probably argue in favor of this idea because in The Canterbury Tales, she uniquely gives her own insight and opinions on how relations between men and women should be carried out. Also, the meaning of her tale is that virtually all women want to be granted control over themselves and their relationship with their husbands, which seems to convince people that the Wife of Bath should be viewed as some sort of revolutionary feminist of her time. This idea, however, is incorrect. The truth is that the Wife of Bath, or Alisoun, merely confirms negative stereotypes of women; she is deceitful, promiscuous, and clandestine. She does very little that is actually empowering or revolutionary for women, but instead tries to empower herself by using her body to gain control over her various husbands. The Wife of Bath is insecure, cynical towards men in general, and ultimately, a confirmation of misogynistic stereotypes of women.
Virtually everything the Wife of Bath does or says regarding different aspects of her life demonstrates that she is very insecure about herself. She begins her prologue by informing the travelers that she has the authority to argue about and discuss marriage because of her experiences: “Experience, though noon auctori...
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...ies that Alisoun does not believe that men are trustworthy or honorable, and that she believes that men only care about the superficial aspects of life, such as having a young, beautiful wife.
The Wife of Bath’s insecurity and cynicism are just two of the ways in which she fulfils negative stereotypes of women. She tries to separate herself from other women of her time by taking control of her life by means of sex, but if she were truly progressive, she would have found a way to elevate herself without using her body. Alisoun is exactly what men fear and dislike about women; she is promiscuously sneaky, and she takes advantage of men. This is why while trying to present herself as strong and independent, her actions ultimately confirm misogynistic stereotypes of women; in the end, she is even more digressive to the cause feminism than a normal woman would be.
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