In The Canterbury Tales, which three pilgrims' inner natures are revealed by their outer appearances?

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One pilgrim whose inner nature is revealed by her outward appearance is the Prioress. A prioress is the head of a convent, which would imply that she should be a devout and humble religious woman. This prioress's appearance, however, shows that she is anything but that: she is dainty (though...

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One pilgrim whose inner nature is revealed by her outward appearance is the Prioress. A prioress is the head of a convent, which would imply that she should be a devout and humble religious woman. This prioress's appearance, however, shows that she is anything but that: she is dainty (though large and well-fed), affected, and worldly. She is also very well-dressed in rich clothing (perhaps too well-dressed for someone who has taken vows of poverty) and wears a string of costly coral beads that are attached to a pendant that says "love conquers all." That is a Christian sentiment but also a romantic and secular expression, depending on what kind of "love" is meant.

The Wife of Bath's appearance also reveals much about her forceful and flamboyant character. She wears "scarlet" clothes made of good material, her hat is big, and her shoes are new. She is the type whose clothes could hardly be missed in a crowd, just as her personality could hardly be missed when she opens her mouth. Her clothing marks her as well-to-do, and this is also consistent with her lively personality: she married older men for money, bent them to her will, and now openly enjoys her inheritances.

The Clerk's ragged clothing and emaciated appearance offer clues as to his inner nature. He is a philosopher cleric and goes hungry—and lets his horse go hungry—so he can buy books, which were very costly items in those days when they had to be hand-copied. He would do well to take a little more care of his body—and the body of the creature assigned to his care—but as his appearance shows, his thoughts are in the clouds. He is also silent, another indication of his mind being elsewhere. He is criticized by the Host for being:

As coy and quiet as a virgin wife,

Newly espoused [married] and sitting mum [silent] at table!

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The Canterbury Tales, considered Geoffrey Chaucer’s magnum opus, offers a critical portrayal of Middle English society, especially with regard to the Catholic Church. Chaucer uses a reoccurring cast of characters to serve as storytellers. These storytellers are often known simply by their professional titles, and Chaucer enforces their inner natures by their outer appearances to support his societal critique.

It’s interesting to evaluate three characters specifically:

The Pardoner. In Chaucer’s time, pardoners managed papal indulgences, which were controversial practices in the Church in which individuals would make monetary donations in exchange for less time in Purgatory after death. The Pardoner is beardless and has long, greasy blonde hair, which were signs of deceit and corruption. He carries a bag of counterfeit relics, which shows he cares more about his own finances than truly helping parishioners reach salvation.

The Monk. Monks were required to live in monasteries and dedicate their lives to work and prayer, which is the Rule of Saint Benedict. The Monk spites this rule, as his physical appearance is loud and large, and he wears hunting boots and furs, which speak to his worldly vices rather than his pursuit of work and prayer.

The Miller. Millers were professionals tasked with creating flour to feed the masses. While not a religious title, one might assume a miller would be concerned with the safety and order of a society. Instead, the Miller is a drunk who disrupts the storytelling order. He has both a literal and a figurative big mouth, which he uses to ridicule.

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The Squire is young and has potential to be as noble as his father, the Knight. He has been trained in all the services, music, and other areas considered to be honorable.  However, as a youth with rosy cheeks, short robes, and curly hair, he enjoys the ladies-- so he sleeps as little as the Nightingale.

The Monk owns many things he shouldn't-- dogs, fine horses, nice clothing.  He spends a lot of time hunting and being involved in material worldly pursuits.  His mantra is not to follow the Monks whose footsteps he follows in since the world is a great big place to play and he's all about it with his symbols of material wealth.

Almost every character in the Canterbury Tales is described in such a way that his/her inner nature is revealed by his/her outer appearance.  Careful reading and knowledge of the time period will help you detect the hints that Chaucer is giving his reader as "just reports what he sees and hears".

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Chaucer uses a character's appearance consistently to tell us something about that person.  For example, the Wife of Bath has wide hips, wears red stockings, and is gap-toothed, all which say something about her bold sexuality.  The Clerk is thin and doesn't dress well for he spends all his money on books, showing he is not frivilous and loves learning. The prioress wears an emblem that says Amor Vincit Omnia, which means "love conquers all," and dresses much too nicely for a nun who has taken a vow of poverty and chastity. We learn that she is more concerned about her appearance and living well than she should be for her station in life, and Chaucer satirizes her by means of her appearance.

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