Essay about Chaucer's Canterbury Tales

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Chaucer's Canterbury Tales

After reading explications of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, a student is likely to come away with the impression that the Franklin is the critics favorite punching bag. To the average reader in the modern English-speaking world, the Franklin comes across as surprisingly fair-minded and level-headed, noteworthy as the man kind and inventive enough to resolve the marriage cycle with a tale of decency and openness. The critics, however, often depict the Franklin as a man primarily concerned with upward mobility, finding in his tale a number of remarks intended to win over the nobility and subtly assert his own claim to a kind of nobility. The contrast between the fawning Franklin of certain critical approaches and
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Marxist critics look for social and economic themes in a work, ones of which the author was unaware because the authors own consciousness is affected by the system of production in which he or she lived (157). This critical stance is particularly fitting when one approaches the Canterbury Tales: Chaucer's conscious emphasis on social class, combined with a modern reader's lack of familiarity with the economic conditions of Chaucer's work, requires almost any explicator of Chaucer's work to indulge, to some degree, in Marxist criticism.

In her essay "The Franklin as Dorigen," Susan Crane blends Marxist and feminist approaches to point out links between the Franklin and the heroine of his tale. The heroine of romance, she notes, "occupies an insecure position in society. Noble by birth, and therefore superior to the common run of people, she is nevertheless still a woman, in a society which marginalizes women" (Crane 238-239). The superior/subordinate position of Dorigen, Crane says, is "an echo of the Franklin's own unclear status as a possible member of the gentlemanly class. Like the woman of nobility, the Franklin stands at the boundary between authority and submission" (240).

For Crane, a key element in the Franklin's choice of tale is his role as vavasour. Small land-holders of this sort often appear in Old French romances, depicted as peaceable, hospitable men disinclined to
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