How do the pilgrims create "a portrait of the nation as a whole" in The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer?

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wshoe eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Geoffrey Chaucer's pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales create a portrait of medieval life. These pilgrims are traveling "from every shire's end/ 
Of England" (16) to visit Canterbury Cathedral.  While the pilgrims are from different locations, they also represent various social classes and positions within the Church.  During this time, the Church was a powerful institution, but it was filled with corruption.  Chaucer is making a statement about this corruption with his pilgrims who are clergy members.  Of the nine who are associated with the Church, only the Parson is devout and pure.  All of the others are greedy or exploit their positions in some way.  

Another way the pilgrims reflect society is the various social classes they are from.  During this time, society was moving away from the feudal system and the middle class was beginning to emerge.  The Wife of Bath is an example of this, as are the Guildsmen.  The old feudal system was still in place, though, and is represented by the Knight, his servant, the Yeoman, and the Squire.  

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The Canterbury Tales

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