What was the appearance of the pilgrim and the parson in The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer?i need to know about the physical appearance.

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iandavidclark3 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As the other questions note, there isn't any one character in The Canterbury Tales called "The Pilgrim," as the poem is an account of many pilgrims, the stories they tell, and the ways they interact with on another. However, there is a kind of character in the poem known as "Chaucer the Pilgrim," and he's worth noticing. As you could probably guess, Chaucer the Pilgrim is Chaucer's "character" in his own story, acting as a narrator figure who supposedly traveled alongside the other pilgrims and reports their actions and their narratives. Again, there is almost no physical description of Chaucer's character, but we do get some insights into Chaucer's personality. Chaucer the Pilgrim generally seems to be a laid-back personality who is content to allow others to hold center-stage. Also, he doesn't seem to be a very good poet, as his Rime of Sir Thopas is downright boring. In that case, we can assume that Chaucer the Pilgrim (or Chaucer the Narrator, if you prefer) is not physically striking and allows others to control the narrative, partly because he seems to like listening to others, and partly because he's not very good at telling his own stories.

It's worth considering why exactly Chaucer makes himself a character in his own story. Remember that many of the stories contain very mature content (lewd jokes, sex, violence, etc.), and so Chaucer must have known that some readers of his poetry might have disapproved of some of its more inappropriate moments. In that case, it helps to create a character for yourself and have other characters tell the stories themselves. That way, Chaucer could defend himself by suggesting that other people actually told the offensive stories, and he merely reported them.  

luannw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

All the people on the trip to Canterbury were pilgrims, there is no one character called "pilgrim".  The parson, however, is one of the pilgrims in the group.  The parson was one of the few members of the clergy that Chaucer liked and so he gave the parson favorable traits.  The General Prologue doesn't give a physical description of the parson, but based on the fact that Chaucer gives other favorable characters such as the Oxford scholar traits such as thinness, it's safe to assume the parson is thin.  Plumpness, such as was found in the character description of the Prioress and the Friar, were equated wtih undesireable characters who took advantage of their position and didn't share with the poor.  Chaucer tells us that the parson tended to his flock more than himself, so it is reasonable to conclude the parson was not only thin, but probably appeared to be very poor.  He was most likely dressed in very simple, humble attire.  Also, since he walked, as Chaucer tells the reader in the General Prologue, to visit any of his parishoners who were ill or grieving, he probably is not only lean, but physically fit.  The parson's tale and prologue do nothing to expand on a physical description.  But since his tale and his description in the GP both note that he is a somber and devout man, he probably wasn't a man to smile a great deal.

amymc eNotes educator| Certified Educator

You might have meant to ask about the parson and the plowman, as they are brothers.  I can add some input on the previous answer about the plowman.  

As his name implies, the plowman is a manual laborer whose job was to literally haul and spread animal waste.  He is described in the prologue as such:

With him [the parson] there was a plowman, was his brother
That many a load of dung, and many another
Had scattered, for a good true toiler, he,
Living in peace and perfect charity.

The speaker notes that despite his rather smelly, dirty and generally low-level job, the plowman lives a happy life and works to serve others.  

His appearance, like his brother, would be thin, and his clothing would be simple, dirty, and perhaps torn.  He is not a wealthy man, so his face and hair would not be groomed.  However, one might imagine the plowman to smile and to engage in some friendly talk when he is not at work.  He seems to be content with his life, however meager his earnings may be.

He is described as riding on a mare, which is a bit odd for a lowly servant. One may assume that the mare was provided to both the parson and the plowman by the church.


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The Canterbury Tales

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