What is Chaucer's main reason for writing about the pilgrimage in "The Prologue" from The Canterbury Tales?

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"The General Prologue" to The Canterbury Tales serves two main functions: to offer context for the text to follow and to introduce all of the pilgrims. In fulfilling both of these purposes, Chaucer also inserts subtle criticism of certain characters and satirizes aspects of life in the Middle Ages.

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"The General Prologue" to The Canterbury Tales serves two main functions: to offer context for the text to follow and to introduce all of the pilgrims. In fulfilling both of these purposes, Chaucer also inserts subtle criticism of certain characters and satirizes aspects of life in the Middle Ages.

The first purpose is fairly simple: Chaucer introduces the setting and premise of the text. "The Prologue" begins with Chaucer saying it's April, and people like to go on pilgrimages in April. The characters will be traveling to Canterbury, to the holy site of St. Thomas a Becket, to ask for healing. The pilgrims have all gathered at the Tabard Inn the night before the pilgrimage, and the host, who owns the inn, proposes a contest for the journey. He says each character will tell two stories on the way to Canterbury and two on the way back, as a form of entertainment and to pass the time as they travel. The best story will be chosen by the host, and the winner will earn a free dinner when they return to the inn, paid for by the other pilgrims.

The second purpose, to introduce the pilgrims, is more interesting and complex. Chaucer describes each person traveling in order of social status, so he begins with the Knight. The Knight and a few other characters are described positively, but most of the characters are either openly or subtly critiqued by the narrator. His main target seems to be those associated with the Catholic Church. The wealthy pilgrims who work for the Church are distracted by material and worldly concerns—the Monk is well-dressed and loves hunting, the Friar looks down on the poor and spends time with wealthy people, and the Prioress imagines herself to be a proper, well-mannered aristocrat. Some of the lower-class characters associated with the Church are outright frauds, like the Pardoner, who cheats his parishioners out of their money by selling pardons and fake relics. The Summoner accepts bribes, when he's supposed to bring people to ecclesiastical court. The only "good" religious figures are the Parson and the Plowman, who are brothers; they are poor but genuine. In the context of "The Prologue," though, they are an anomaly. The descriptions of the pilgrims allow Chaucer to showcase the different facets of medieval life —from nobility to middle-class tradespeople to poor scam artists—but also to satirize medieval society to point out its flaws.

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One of Geoffrey Chaucer's purposes in writing The Canterbury Tales could be his desire to shed light on the problematic morals of those associated with the corrupt church and nobility during the medieval period. Most, if not all, of Chaucer's tales depict characters stereotypical to the time period. Historically, readers during Chaucer's time would have readily recognized the pilgrims described in the tales. By using stereotypical characterizations of people during the time period, he is able to blatantly and recognizably point out their shortcomings. These characterizations allowed historical readers to identify problems within the hierarchy of both the church and the nobility.

Chaucer's tales also possess irony, something that many people can identify and understand. The ironic nature of his tales points out the similarly ironic nature of the pilgrims and their own sets of immoral ideologies. By illustrating the character and moral flaws of the pilgrims, Chaucer sheds light upon those within the church and nobility who share the same flaws in real life.

The use of tales to highlight moral and character flaws add to the illumination for readers. Traditionally, mankind has used storytelling to speak to the importance of possessing good morals and character. By using the form of tales, Chaucer uses mankind's love of a good story to teach the lessons he highlights throughout his stories.

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Chaucer writes "The Prologue" to The Canterbury Tales primarily to give us a context for understanding the stories the pilgrims will tell. In other words, he wants us to recognize that the tales the different people choose to entertain the other pilgrims with on the journey reflect their own characters. Therefore, he gives us background and insight into the character and personality of each pilgrim. This context enriches our understandings of the stories—they become not disembodied tales often set in a distant time or place, such as King Arthur's court, but a commentary on life in the here and now of Chaucer's time.

For example, learning that the Wife of Bath is a spirited woman who has had five husbands and is no fool lends authority to the wisdom she imparts about what women want; we take her seriously as a person who would know, and so perhaps pay more attention to her tale.

"The Prologue" also lends color to the overarching story of a journey and helps connect the tales to each other as the different characters interact and tell stories that respond to each other's tales in specific ways. In general, "The Prologue" adds depth to what otherwise would be only a set of disembodied tales borrowed from other sources.

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Chaucer had a difficult time with the hypocrisy he so often saw in the Roman Catholic Church during the medieval period.  Priests who were to be celibate, taking a vow of poverty, often kept women and lived better than their poor parishioners.  Those who were supposed to help the unfortunate often ignored or took advantage of them.  Pardoners would forgive the sins of those who could line the Pardoner's purse.

This seems to be Chaucer's purpose in writing The Canterbury Tales.  The Prologue is Chaucer's way to introduce the members of the pilgrimage (a journey to a holy place in order to earn favor in God's sight and improve the condition of one's soul) to the reader.  Chaucer not only pretends that he is one of the pilgrims, using this "tool" so that he can travel with them and observe them, but in life he was known for being a student of human nature.  He is very observant and relays not only vivid details of the appearance of each pilgrim, but studies their behavior to point out those who are truly pious (holy minded) and those who are hypocrites. Many see this as a satirical writing.

Chaucer is very critical of those who pretend to serve the Holy Church while taking advantage of the poor. However, Chaucer does credit some of those in his traveling party who were truly decent folks.  The Knight is one.

The Prologue's premise is that the travelers all agree to tell a story each night when they rest at the inn to entertain each other.  In this way we meet each character, seeing him/her from Chaucer's point of view.

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