Point of View/Narrative Technique in The Canterbury Tales
Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales has a very complex point of view. The complexity arises from the fact that there are two Chaucers in the poem: Chaucer the pilgrim that narrates poem and Chaucer the poet. Chaucer the narrator is almost unfailingly simple minded where as the poet is anything but simple minded. The intellectual disparity between them leads to not only the complexity of the point of view but also the use of irony. Chaucer the poet transcends Chaucer the pilgrim/narrator and thereby there is the mortal or humane within the latter. For example, the pilgrim Chaucer shows emotional weakness for the Prioress through the insistence on the adverb 'ful' which means very. The narrator uses the adverb to underscore the excellence of prioress, but its real effect is to communicate his being enraptured by her excellence. The narrator is accountable for the verbalizing of the text and for the perspectives it posits where as Chaucer the poet is responsible for the fact that the verbalizing is poetic.
The militating of the two viewpoints against each other creates textual breakdowns that make readers look askance at the narratorial authority. For example, is the knight worthy? or is the prioress charitable? Such textual breakdowns strengthen the ironic note of Chaucer the pilgrim in proportion as his control over his material decreases. The narrator turns out to be the principal agent of Chaucerian irony: his failure to see what is wrong emphasizes the wrong. For example, the portrait of the Monk can be cited as a suitable example of "irony-as-discrepant awareness" (what the poet says right is perceived by readers as wrong). Almost everything that is said in praise of the monk as a manly man can reflect unfavorably on his supposedly chosen vocation as a Monk. The pilgrim Chaucer's praise betrays his simple mindedness but the Chaucer the poet is anything but simple minded.
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