September 7, 1999
Analysis of "Alison" from The Millers Tale, Canterbury Tales
In "The Miller's Tale," the character of Alison is introduced as the 18-year-old wife of a carpenter who is much older than the woman. The author's description of the young wife seems to suggest that she was so wild, beautiful, and desirable that the old man had a difficult time containing his jealousy. Chaucer uses a number of expressions to "paint" a picture of the young wife. The use of the term "paint" is intentional here, since Chaucer seems to be "painting" (with words) the image of a picture perfect young woman who resembles a "painted" porcelain doll. It is important to Chaucer that the reader see the wife as a woman of sharp contrasts. The outfit being worn by the young woman, for example, was an outfit full of contrasts. He writes that the woman is wearing a white apron "a barncloth as whit as morne milk" and describes her blouse by writing that it was also white ("Whit was hir smok.") The white apron and white dress are trimmed in a black collar. She is also described as wearing a white hat, which has been trimmed with black ribbons.
While the clothing she was wearing was full of sharp contrasts (black and white), the same can be said of the woman, according to Chaucer's description. He writes that even though she was of fair complexion ("Fair was this yonge wife") she had delicately plucked jet-black eyebrows ("Ful smale ypulled were hir browes two. And tho were bent, and blake as any slo."). The author also writes that the woman has a wanton eye ("she hadde a likerous ye,") and it wouldn't be much of a leap to surmise that her eyes were dark too.
What Chaucer seems to be describing is a woman of contrasts. She wears a white outfit, it is trimmed in black. She has a fair complexion, but eyebrows dark as the night. And even though she is young and talented,...
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