Women In The Canterbury Tales Essay

2201 words - 9 pages

Throughout the ages, the story of the original sin is used to explain the struggles of women and why they are inferior to man. Eve “took of [the forbidden tree’s] fruit and ate” (Genesis 3:6), and as punishment, God made it so “[her husband] shall rule over her” (3:16). As an important text during the lifetime of the characters who tell the collection of stories that compose the Canterbury Tales, most of the pilgrims were familiar with this scripture and believed that the Bible’s word was law. For that reason, the popular belief of the time was that women were inferior to their male counterparts. However, a couple of characters in the tales challenge this viewpoint and show that women were also capable of making their own choices. As the pilgrims struggle with the issue of where women belong, their view of Eve in the story of original sin is altered as well. From mild indifference to intimate involvement, each pilgrim has a different attachment to the story of the Eve, and their views on women in society are reflected in their connection to the story.
The Monk tells the story of Adam and his fall from God’s grace in his series of tragedies, but Eve is noticeably absent compared to the references to her in the other tales. The monk describes Adam’s expulsion from the garden as “As Adam, til he for mysgovernaunce/ Was dryven out of hys hye prosperitee/ To labour, and to helle, and to meschaunce” (2012-2014). The Monk easily could have made Eve the reason for the original sin, but instead, he tells the tale with Adam as the subject of the tragedy. In doing so, the Monk is either making arguing that it was only when Adam ate the fruit that created the original sin and that the actions of Eve were inconsequential, or that too much blame is placed on womankind in the story of the Garden of Eden.
The Monk could easily be read as an anti-feminist viewpoint in the tales. In one short vignette, he explains how Delilah, the wife of Sampson, was responsible for the downfall of her husband. From Hercules to Holofernes, the Monk continues on with more tragedies that feature women who instigated the defeat of their significant other. As Angela Jane Weisl notes in “‘Quiting’ Eve: Violence Against Women in the Canterbury Tales,” women were doomed to repeat “Eve’s walk down the primrose path to hell, usually bringing men with them in the process,” (115). Yet, the Monk chose not to include Eve in his telling of the Garden of Eden.
Eve’s absence may imply that the Monk does not completely blame her for the original sin. Most of the pilgrims in his company would consider Eve to be the source of the problem, but the Monk reads a bit further into it. He sees that Eve was created from Adam, and therefore, the traits that she has are derived from him. “If Eve is made ‘lyk to himself,’ of Adam’s ‘bely-naked’ flesh, why is she instinctively deceitful, untrustworthy, and carnal?” (35) asks Elaine Tuttle Hansen referring to the Merchant’s Tale in her book Chaucer and...

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