The Wife of Bath develops a plot where the encounters of a female in a chauvinistic society are highlighted. The narration is expressed in a manner that favors the opinion of women in marriage, though society’s constraints are highlighted. The narrator had been married to five men and she seems to consider her experiences as strength and not a misfortune. The prologue takes on the perspective of a woman who shares her beliefs and uses dishonesty to sustain her interests in marriage. The narrator’s actions and her misguided beliefs are shaped by her experiences, both positive and negative. The Wife of Bath explores the attitudes shared by the wife who appears to share strong beliefs contradicting the norms proposed by fellow pilgrims and takes an interest in the role of women in marriage.
The Prologue is Chaucer's predictable approach in considering opposing views in a piece of literature. The theme of marriage and roles of women in marriage are considered with the wife siding with women all through, while scholars and religious leaders are portrayed as oppressors of women using available resources to justify gender discrimination in society. The Wife’s prologue is highly detailed perhaps as an attempt to ensure that the less popular arguments proposed by women are considered (Abrams, 1987).
The Wife of Bath had five husbands and considered sexual exploration an empowerment to women. Though she proudly expresses her sexual desires, she never resulted to sex outside marriage. She was a conventional woman who had a strong set of opinions that contracted men’s perception of marriage responsibilities. Her character need not be considered as immoral as she had a unique and complicated moral compass that defined her actions. Religious constraints concerning responsibilities of women in society conflicted with her principles causing continuous arguments with spiritual leaders.
The Wife of Bath’s narration takes an active role in defense against the views expressed by sexist ideologies that view women’s role in society as primarily of less significance as compared to men. The role of women in society in the wife of bath was diminished and she views this as a justification for her actions. Though her claims do not defend her behavior, she takes pride in leading a life of lies and cunningness. She describes her fourth marriage with distaste, expressing her husband’s selfish endeavors with his mistress. Though she lists negative attributes about the fourth husband, she realizes that she too has some wrong in the marriage (Ellis, 1988). One example of her deceitful practices is her endless attempts to make him jealous. The fourth husband died while she was in Jerusalem. The narrator was on a pilgrimage and she admits to have tried the husband’s patience repeatedly.
The Wife of Bath takes on an unorthodox belief system involving the role of a wife. The wife believes that a husband ought not to be concerned with the desires of his wife if she unmistakably fulfils her role in marriage. The context of the claim refers to sex therefore if a woman fulfills her role; the man ought not to be intimidated by sexual advances made. She seems to view sex as a requirement for women and not merely a role fulfilled (Hodges, 2000). These opinions are visible where she claims the physiological structure of men and women alike contain systems designed for both pleasure and tasks. The wife’s experiences from a young age lead her to believe that she ought to fight for her interests in a man’s world.
The fifth marriage is described as violent, displaying physical abuse. The wife however states that she loved her fifth husband as he always charmed her and was quite a good lover. The wife does not take a victim’s perspective in her narration, claiming to be caught up in the same deception she had used to manipulate men in her past. She claims that women are attracted to danger and that which is prohibited, explaining why her abusive fifth husband always managed to make amends with her. The wife seems to be proud of her ability to control men in her life and is indeed fascinated by a man who has the same effect on her. The wife’s prologue reveals her cunning nature in times of remorse, displaying a defense mechanism that she developed early on as a survival tactic.
'I'll have a husband yet who shall be both my debtor and my slave'
The wife claims to have put on a show of sorrow on her fourth husband’s funeral, arguably to mask her intentions to marry Jankyn. The wife of bath displays a plot of a woman living in times that were oppressive to women and in turn develops to be the perpetrator. Her marriage to a man twenty years younger than her shows an attempt to regain control in marriage. The fifth husband had literature that highlighted the downfall of men by women in their lives. The literature possessed by Jankyn can be viewed as an attempt to avoid falling victim to manipulation and trickery. She blames him in her prologue for being deaf in on one ear after he struck her. Vengeance is in the wife’s nature as she deceitfully led him to believe that she desired to kiss him before her death but she reportedly assaulted him when he came close to her (Mandel, 1992).
The wife’s character and beliefs seem unfounded on rational as she defends women regardless of the argument in question. According to her, church officials are bad husbands as they use religion to oppress women in society. Men naturally write the religious values and belief systems, therefore tools defined for spiritual enhancement achieve gender discrimination. She claims that scholars disturbed by impotence take out their frustrations on their wives. The wife’s narration of events seems unapologetic for lies and deceit used in defense of her actions.
The Wife of Bath assumes a feministic nature as the wife is empowered to overcome the systems designed to diminish women. Her arguments and actions are spirited in her cause, and she succeeds in taking a leading role in relationships. The opinions expressed in the prologue are not necessarily justified as she defends her arguments even where logic is lacking, but she does place a strong foundation for feminist ideology. References
Abrams, M. H. (1987). The Norton anthology of English Literature (5th ed.). New York: Norton.
Ellis, S. (1988). Chaucer-The Canterbury tales. London: Longman
Hodges, L. F. (2000). Chaucer and costume: the secular pilgrims in the General Prologue. Cambridge, England: D.S. Brewer.
Mandel, J. (1992). Geoffrey Chaucer: building the fragments of the Canterbury tales. Rutherford, New Jersey: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press
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