Chapter 3 Summary
Asta’s son was born thirteen years ago, in 1363, under the reign of King Edward III. His mother always called him only “son,” and the rest of the town accordingly calls him “Asta’s son.” If he had a father, he would have an identity—but the man died of Plague when Asta was pregnant. In his absence, Asta’s son lives “in a shadow”—one of the poorest people in a poor village.
Asta never remarried after her husband’s death, and her son does not find this surprising. She was always small, frail, and poor. What man would want such a woman? Moreover, she was always shunned, as her son has been shunned also.
The children of the village have always teased Asta’s son. Father Quinel, the priest, has been his only friend. The old man usually counsels the boy to have patience and accept his role in life. Asta’s son finds this difficult. He feels that his misfortunes must result from some wickedness inside himself. He spends a great deal of time praying, trying to rid himself of this evil.
Although they are not slaves, the villagers are not free to come and go as they please. They are called villeins or serfs—people who are bound to work Lord Furnival’s fields. Lord Furnival has been away fighting in wars for such a long time that many of his villagers have never seen him. This does not matter much, since they know what to do: they must raise grain in his fields. In winter, when they do not need to work the land, they tend to the animals, gather wood, and just try to stay alive. They are paid little for the work they do, barely enough to earn the barley bread and watered ale that makes up almost their entire diet. Occasionally they have cooked dried peas to go with their bread. Only on Christmas, in good years, do they get a little meat.
Almost every day of Asta’s son’s life has been the same, filled with work and hunger. According to the Holy Church and John Aycliffe, this is the life which God has assigned to serfs—the path that may bring them to eternal happiness when they reach Judgment Day. Asta’s son does not question this. He assumes that everyone lives as he does, and that everyone will continue to live this way until the end of time. Now that his mother has died, he feels as though the end of time is already here.