The Canterbury Tales: General Prologue & Frame Story
by Geoffrey Chaucer
Analysis: Narrator Point of View
Who is the narrator, can she or he read minds, and, more importantly, can we trust her or him?
First Person (Central Narrator)
The character of Chaucer serves as our guide to the action. Sometimes Chaucer narrates like he's really there in the tavern, just meeting these pilgrims for the first time, and we feel like we're right there with him. At other times, though, Chaucer is a narrator who seems to know way more than he should. For example, he tells us that, when the Shipman wins a fight, he murders the loser by throwing him overboard, or that the Reeve is stealing from his master. Now is that really something these people would tell Chaucer on first meeting him? And how does Chaucer know so many details of the pilgrims' day-to-day lives? At these moments, Chaucer acts much more like an omniscient, or all-knowing, narrator, than one who's truly in the heat of the action. The reason for this choice could be that verisimilitude, or making things seem like real life, was not as important to a medieval author as it is to authors today. Instead, the narrator might choose to tell whatever he wants to tell to serve the purposes of characterization.