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Barron's Booknotes-The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer-Free Book Notes
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POINT OF VIEW

As you saw just now in the section on "Style," the Wife of Bath's point of view sneaked in, "style" and "point of view' are closely related in the Canterbury Tales. But Chaucer the poet is lurking behind every pilgrim narrator, so that the narrator's point of view isn't the only one.

Chaucer is a remarkably clever writer. He knows exactly how to draw you into each tale so you can see the story, the person telling the story, and the point behind the story (often ironic) all at once. Often Chaucer the poet is making that last point behind the narrator's back, or at the pilgrim's expense, which is what creates the irony.


For example, in the Pardoner's Tale the Pardoner, who is a hypocrite and a sleaze if ever there was one, goes on a moral rampage against drunkenness, lechery, and gluttony-the very sins he's guilty of. Yet the intriguing thing about the tale is not only that you're fascinated by someone so evil, but also that the Pardoner himself is completely unaware (or seems to be) that he's talking about his own damnation. Chaucer is going beyond a potentially boring moralistic tale to show us a real human being, no matter how crass.

As you'll also see, in the note at the end of the Knight's Tale, for example, that point of view sometimes shifts within the tale. When the point of view changes from the Palamon to Arcite and back again, for instance, or from the knights to the arguing gods, decide why you think Chaucer is deliberately changing the scene. Often each point of view represents a different moral or philosophical outlook.

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