What does Chaucer seem to be saying about marriage in "The Miller's Tale"?

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If there is a message in "The Miller's Tale " regarding marriage, it would appear to be that a significant age gap between husband and wife can often cause serious problems. The comely Alison is much younger than her husband John, and this makes her especially susceptible to the...

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If there is a message in "The Miller's Tale" regarding marriage, it would appear to be that a significant age gap between husband and wife can often cause serious problems. The comely Alison is much younger than her husband John, and this makes her especially susceptible to the devious wiles of their smooth-talking lodger, an Oxford student by the name of Nicholas.

Alison is hardly what one would call a woman of the world. Despite being the object of desire for at least two men, she seems somewhat naive. Perhaps this partly explains her marriage to a much older man; like many women of her time, she seeks protection from the big old world outside. She wants some measure of security, the kind that John, for all his obvious faults, is able to provide.

But in choosing security, Alison has ended up with a man who cannot provide her with much in the way of attention. Nicholas senses this, and when John's away one day, he makes his move, and so his tawdry affair with Alison begins.

Though such large age gaps between husband and wife were quite common in medieval England, Chaucer has honed in one of the potential difficulties that such arrangements could often generate in order to create this scabrous, hilarious masterpiece.

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It's hard to guess Chaucer's position on any subject, given the breadth and diversity of character viewpoints in The Canterbury Tales. What this particular story says about marriage might be more the Miller's viewpoint than Chaucer's. The story is also a response to the tale which precedes it, "The Knight's Tale," which is a courtly romance with noble characters and high ideals about love. "The Miller's Tale," in contrast, is ribald and sexual, with a negative view of human sexual self-control and the ideal of marriage.

At any rate, marriage is presented rather cynically in this story. The carpenter marries a teenage girl who is decades younger than he is. Because of this, he feels she is always cuckolding him. What he thought would be a satisfying marriage due to the sexual attractiveness and youth of the bride has become a nightmare where he can never trust her to be alone with other men. He does not seem to have married her for any other reason—certainly not for tender love or because she would make a good homemaker or mother.

The Miller seems to criticize the carpenter's vanity and foolishness in choosing such an unsuitable bride. If he is making any point about marriage in this farce, it might be that one should think beyond sexual satisfaction when picking a marriage partner.

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I believe that "The Miller's Tale" is a cautionary tale about marriage that emphasizes the importance of equality and mutual respect between a husband and wife. 

"The Miller's Tale" satirizes the stereotypical thought that a man should pursue and hopefully marry a younger woman.  I'm not talking about a difference of a couple of years.  I'm talking about a big age split.  In the story, the carpenter marries a woman that is much younger than he is.  He is married to a very attractive woman that is eighteen.  Some men might think that marrying a younger "trophy wife" is awesome; however, the story warns against this kind of marriage.  Because his wife is so young and so attractive, the carpenter lives in a constant state of jealousy.  He is threatened by any man that looks at his wife, and this makes him incredibly protective of his wife.  In fact, "wife" might be a generous term.  Alisoun is basically a prize that he is trying desperately to hold on to.  The marriage is not a healthy marriage between two equal partners.  

The equality of marriage partners is another idea that "The Miller's Tale" is illustrating.  The story illustrates how women are not typically given equal footing within a marriage.  This is true of the marriage between the carpenter and his wife.  He treats her like a possession instead of a partner.  She exists for his sexual pleasure, and she resents being treated as an object.  Objects are acted upon by subjects.  Alisoun doesn't want to always be an object.  She wants some control of a relationship, which is why she begins cheating on her husband.  It's her way of taking control of a relationship and getting revenge on her husband.  

It seems to me that the story is putting a big emphasis on the importance of marrying somebody of similar age.  Similar ages will likely put two people at similar maturity levels.  That should lead to increased respect between two people.  That mutual respect will likely lead to a marriage with more equality between the husband and wife.   I believe that Chaucer's main point of this story is to show how equality between partners is key to a healthy marriage. 

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Well, you wouldn't want to assume this tale represents Chaucer's position; he takes various positions that don't fit together smoothly in this set of stories. However, this story shows marriage as anything but the sacred bond the church would have it. Marriage is shown as entered into by the ignorant, who don't really know one another. This allows for deception, and makes those involved look stupid. Broadening the question a little, the story shows how sexual desire can make us look like fools.

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