The character details that Geoffrey Chaucer’s narrator focuses on, in his descriptions of the pilgrims in “The Canterbury Tales”, provide an insight into the values and ideals that he held in esteem. The story is framed from the point of view of a narrator; who is not explicitly Chaucer but, presumably, shares many of his predilections and persuasions. The pilgrims are described in varying degrees of detail, less than ten lines for the Cook and more than forty for the Summoner, but nonetheless, the narrator ensures that his audience has a solid grasp on how he feels about each character. Without outwardly condemning or praising either character, the narrator describes both the Clerk and the Pardoner’s relationship with money to paint a favorable picture of the former and a negative view of the latter.
Chaucer’s narrator does not make any overt assertions that the Clerk is in anyway a superior or fantastic character, but the details he provides, specifically about his relationship to money, allow the reader to understand that this Clerk is a shining example of his occupation. The narrator explains, “For he hadde getten him yit no benefice,/ Ne was so worldly for to have office…/Yit hadde he but litel gold in cofre/ but al that he mighte of his freends hente,/ On bookes and on lerning he it spente” (293-302 Chaucer). This Clerk has no secular job, or an intention to get one it seems, and is fully consumed with his learning. The money he does have, he spends on books and schooling. This description, of the Clerk’s potential money and potential ways to take advantage of his scholarship, makes the reader feel that the narrator would not be too upset if the Clerk did indeed do just that. The positive feelings the narrator has created...
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...in front of the reader, one after the other, allows for comparisons and contrasts to be made. For instance, physical descriptions are made of nearly every character; the reader knows who has a wart, which has ulcers, what color everyone’s hair is, and how they dress. These descriptions stand alone to provide valuable information to an informed reader. When the details are taken as a conglomerate they allow for insights into the mind of the narrator. The Clerk does not stand out as so noble a character unless he has a character like the Pardoner to be compared against. The narrator reserves his own judgment as best he can, but he does allow the reader to come to their own conclusions based on the details he chooses to share. It follows that the reader learns a great deal about the narrator himself, and perhaps Chaucer, as they examine this motley cast of characters.
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