What aspects of human nature are exaggerated in "The Reeve's Tale" from The Canterbury Tales?

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Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Because the Reeve has written another fabliau all about revenge on the Miller in the company, all of the exaggerated aspects of human nature are negative:  lust, dishonesty, violence, vulgarity, & pride.  Dealing with the least important first, a reader must understand the exaggeration of the lust found within this fabliau.  It is the only negative quality exaggerated apart from the Miller in the story.  The two students, John and Alan, both rashly take advantage of both the Miller’s virgin daughter and the Miller’s wife.  John and Alan “went deep and thrust away like mad. / It was a jolly life for either lad” (133).  Most of the negative qualities, though, are meant to describe the Miller in the story, of course.  It is most important for the reader to realize the exaggeration of the Miller’s dishonesty.  “He was a thief as well of corn and meal, / And sly at that; his habit was to steal. / Simpkin the Swagger he was called in scorn” (125).  The Reeve also wants the reader to recognize the Miller in the story (and among the travelers) as incredibly dangerous, carrying many weapons on his person at any time.  “At his belt he carried a long blade, / . . . And in his pouch a jolly little knife.  / No one dared touch him, peril o f his life. / He had a Sheffield dagger in his hose” (125).  Even apart from all of these, the very worst aspects of human nature, the vulgarity of the Miller is also exaggerated (even including the Miller’s family this time).  After eating and drinking far too much “he snorted like a cart-horse in his sleep / And vented other noises, loud and deep. / His wife joined in the chorus hot and strong” (131).  Finally, even though the Miller is described so hideously, he still “proud as any peacock and as gay” (125).  Sufficed to say that the Miller could give the seven deadly sins a run for their money, for if you tweak a few of these exaggerated qualities of human nature you find none other than lust, greed, wrath, gluttony, and pride.

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The Canterbury Tales

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