Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales offers gentle satire throughout. Irony exists between the various tale-tellers and the types of narratives they offer, often suggesting something amiss in their value. However, the most significant social satire occurs in the General Prologue itself, where the naive narrator provides descriptions of the pilgrims. This prologue offers one of the best examples of the medieval genre of the Estates Satire, whose function is to show the difference between a feudal ideal and the reality. The Estates Satire makes the assumption that society will be well ordered if everyone remains in his or her proper social place and fulfills the duties required by that role, yet Chaucer's General Prologue illustrates the difficulty of finding people who willingly remain where the social order has placed them.
The prologue divides pilgrims according to their place in society: those who fight, those who pray, and those who work. One might imagine the Knight as a medieval ideal of an earnest Crusader, while his son the Squire falls short (fighting in less significant battles and largely to capture the attention of his beloved), and the Yeoman seems to be a mercenary. Similarly, in the religious group, the Nun is harmless in her dedication to social graces as well as God's grace, while the Monk is clearly out of place in a monastery, and the Friar is downright criminal in his negligence of religious values and support of the community. Among the working pilgrims, readers find a range of personalities from the slightly negligent to the criminally dangerous.
In each instance, the reader makes a judgment about the ways in which individuals fail to live up to society's expectations. In the tales, as well, Chaucer offers commentary about the ways in which society's expectations for individuals often fall short of justice. Most notably, the Wife of Bath's Prologue lays bare the injustice of marriage expectations (marrying Alison at twelve to an elderly husband and enforcing the medieval notions of the marriage debt, thereby conflating sex or arraignment and money), of clerical misogyny, and in the Wife's Tale, of the failure to redress the injustice perpetrated on women by men, specifically regarding the rapist knight.