In The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer primarily utilizes indirect methods of characterization in characterizing the various pilgrims in the General Prologue and throughout the entire poem. Unlike direct characterization in which the narrator clearly tells the reader what kind of personality a character has, indirect characterization allows the reader to form his or her own opinion of the character in question. In other words, the difference between direct characterization and indirect characterization is the difference between telling and showing respectively.
Throughout The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer relies primarily upon five techniques of indirect characterization. In the first technique, Chaucer describes the physical appearance of the character and this description allows the reader to form a clear impression about the character. For example, the Yeoman’s clothing leads the reader to view him as being prepared for any circumstance while the Summoner’s gross facial features clearly leave the reader with a negative impression. Another method of indirect characterization can be found when Chaucer shows the reader the reaction of other characters in the narrative to the character being described. Children being afraid of the Summoner’s appearance would be a good example of this method. Other methods that Chaucer uses include the actions, dialogue, and personal thoughts of the various characters in the poem. A careful reading of the poem will allow one to clearly see these methods being effectively used as well.