What are Chaucer's purpose and objectives in "The Prologue" of The Canterbury Tales?
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The purpose of the "The General Prologue" is to introduce the characters and show the variety of people, trades, and social classes of this time period. There are pilgrims from the noble class (Knight and Squire), some from the middle class (Merchant, Wife of Bath, Shipman), and some from the clergy. Chaucer shows the complexity of real people/characters. For example, the narrator/poet describes the Summoner and Pardoner, supposed religious people, and notes their corrupt practices. He presents these characters, not as stereotypes but, as realistic and complex people. Chaucer, as narrator, describes each character objectively. His descriptions set the stage for the tales that will follow. Each character's tale supplements and illustrates Chaucer's initial character description and development in the "The General Prologue." For example, the Miller (Millere) is described as a muscular man who is a Goliardais (teller of crude or graphic stories and jokes):
He was a janglere and a Goliardais,
And that was most of sinne and harlotries. (562-63)
In "The Miller's Tale," the Miller tells a story about lust, adultery, and violence. In this case, his choice of a tale exemplifies his characteristics as they were described in "The General Prologue."
The narrator introduces each character in the prologue. Then, the character becomes another narrator in telling his/her tale. In this sense, the narrator (Chaucer) is introducing a variety of characters who will each take their turn as narrator.
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