What do you suppose Chaucer is trying to tell us about the nun in "The Canterbury Tales"?

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amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A Nun is a woman of God.  She is to take a vow of poverty, chastity, and obedience.  The Prioress is the head nun--in charge of the all the others.  The nun is interesting since she does many things a person wouldn't expect of a nun.  She smiles in a  "coy" or flirtatious manner, and she swears an oath, "By St. Loy!"  Nuns should not swear oaths to anything, but especially not the patron saint of perfect manners.  It's as if she cares more about her appearances than her duties to God.  She appears to put on airs--speaking inferior French, not allowing any morsels to fall from her lips (she is not undergrown Chaucer points out--a fat nun who should not be a glutton by the standards of the Bible...hum), and acting as though she were at court like all the nobles of the land instead of heading to Canterbury for a cathartic spiritual experience.  She attends more to her dogs than she does to the poor.  Her forehead is fair of spread--in Chaucer's time this would be a sign of good breeding and intelligence.  Women would actually shave their hairlines further up than normal to indicate their family lineage--Chaucer is either mocking her here or pointing out her pretentious nature which should not be present in a nun.  She has lots of worldy luxuries--the nice veil and cloak, and her coral trinket engraved with "Love conquers all" makes us think that she does not deny herself love, either.

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The Canterbury Tales

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