In the chapter of Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales titled "The Millers Tale," do the characters get what's coming to them?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It would be difficult to conclude that all of the characters in Chaucer’s The Miller’s Tale “get what’s coming to them.”  Certainly, the two suitors for the carpenter’s wife, Alison, pay a price, although the price paid by Nicholas is certainly more severe than that endured by Absalon.  The former is painfully branded in the buttocks by the latter, although Absalon’s target was, apparently, Alison.  Absalon, in contrast, is merely mildly humiliated when he finds himself planting his lips not on the beautiful young Alison’s lips, but on her buttocks (presumably, his lips made contact with Alison’s anus, as there is little reason otherwise for his horrified response to the encounter).  So these two men are both penalized in some manner for their indiscretions.  Alison's husband John, however, suffers the most of all of the characters.  He not only suffers a broken arm when the tub in which he is sleeping while hanging from the roof of the barn falls to the ground, but is humiliated before the entire village because of the ruse perpetrated against him by Nicholas and Alison (i.e., God is about to cause a flood that will make the one the Biblical figure of Noah endured seem minor in comparison).  The miller, in telling his tale, summarizes the situation as follows:

No matter what the carpenter insisted,

It was for naught, his reasons were resisted.

With such great oaths the fellow was put down,            

He was considered mad throughout the town;

Each learned man agreed with every other,

Saying, "The man is mad, beloved brother,"

And everyone just laughed at all his strife.

So she was screwed, the carpenter's young wife,           

Despite all jealous safeguards he could try;

And Absalon has kissed her nether eye,

And Nicholas is scalded in the rear.

This tale is done, God save all who are here!

So, John pays a serious price despite being the sole victim, while Alison, alone among the characters, pays no price whatsoever despite her role in the chain of events that result in her husband’s injury and humiliation.  Both Nicholas and Absalon, as noted, "get what’s coming to them," but Nicholas’ branding is considerably more long-lasting than Absalon’s relatively minor embarrassment.  John does not "get what’s coming," as he is an innocent, if naïve, victim of the machinations of the others. 

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The Canterbury Tales

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