As humans, we often like to dichotomize things. It’s much more orderly that way. It’s part of our human nature to see things as simply right or wrong, black or white, or hot or cold.
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We often forget that there is more, more complexity. We overlook the fact that things can be neutral, gray, or even warm. (Elodie). Likewise, for centuries, many scholars have many scholars, for centuries, have been looking at the simplistic nature of the Wife of Bath’s Tale. They have been claiming that the Wife of Bath’s Tale, by Geoffrey Chaucer, is a work of feminist literature, and that she, herself, is a feminist character. I too originally believed this; however, after deep analysis into the text, this is certainly not the case. The Wife of Bath, Alisoun, for the longest time, has been considered one of Chaucer’s most memorable characters for her openness and her modern stance on the woman’s role in society. For this, along with her belief in female sovereignty over their male counterparts, she has been considered a feminist character. However, it is nearly impossible to overlook the inconsistencies found throughout the text where the Wife of Bath’s words do not match up with the way she behaves. Chaucer portrays the Wife of Bath in a way that she verbally suppresses the common beliefs and roles of the time, but instead, through her actions, portrays a misogynistic figure, and therefore, is not a feminist character.
When directed to the actual tale itself, we see, in the beginning, that there were a group of beautiful, young fairies. They were considered the independents, the ones separated by the man. However, this sense of being self-dependent is quickly demolished whenThe Elf-Queen and her courtiers joined and broke/ Their elfin dance on many a green mead,/Or so was the opinion once, I read,/Hundreds of years ago, in days of yore./But no one now sees fairies any more./For now the saintly charity and prayer/Of holy friars seem to have purged the air (Chaucer 31-36). In other words, these fairies, who were thought to be individualistic, suddenly disappeared, presenting the notion that this represents the women of medieval society. As literary critic Warren Edminster had once stated, The loss of fairy magic parallels and is symbolic of the loss of feminine expression and independence. Chaucer may have been trying to show that those self-reliant type of women didn’t exist at the time, so the Wife of Bath’s tale was not women empowering, but indeed the opposite.
Furthermore, this concept is later elaborated when we are introduced to the scenario of the young maiden who was raped by the knight and then immediately removed from the story. A true feminist, or work of feminist literature, would want the female character to reappear as a sign of strength and tenacity;
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