How would you describe Chaucer's realism and discuss the "General Prologue" to The Canterbury Tales as a mirror of English society in the 14th century?

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iandavidclark3 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Chaucer's realism is inextricably linked to the way his poem The Canterbury Tales mirrors English society in the 14th century. To see how this trend works, it helps to look at the "General Prologue" of the poem, in which Chaucer describes (often in minute detail) the personalities, physical appearances, and occupations of the pilgrims he's traveling with. Chaucer achieves his realistic tone by writing about pilgrims who occupy a wide variety of social standings, perform many different societal roles, and represent countless classes. For instance, Chaucer describes a Reeve, Miller, Prioress, Knight, Yeoman, Parson, an entrepreneurial woman (the Wife of Bath), and many more. In short, Chaucer's group of pilgrims is essentially a microcosm of England during the 14th century, and so he realistically represents the diverse range of people in English society. Of course, some scholars note it would be highly unlikely that such a diverse range of people would travel together, and this point has its merits. This does not necessarily take away from the realism of the poem, however, as Chaucer still realistically represents the characters he chooses to portray and provides a realistic portrait of England's many different classes and social roles. 

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The Canterbury Tales

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