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Themes

Little Words, Big Ideas

Literature and Writing

Since The Canterbury Tales are all about a tale-telling competition, it makes sense that a huge concern of this story would be literature and, more specifically, what makes for good literature. Is...

Competition

The Canterbury Tales are about a tale-telling competition in which pilgrims engage on their way to Canterbury. This competition is supposed to be friendly, but it becomes the opposite of that when...

Society and Class

Since Chaucer sets The Canterbury Tales at a time of economic transition in England, in which new mercantile and artisan classes are shaking things up for the more traditional "estates" of those wh...

Wealth

Since The Canterbury Tales are set in a time of economic transition for medieval society, money and wealth play a very big role here, particularly in the portraits of the pilgrims. We see the thing...

Friendship

Among the Canterbury pilgrims we see varying versions of, and motivations for, friendship, ranging from similar interests to greed to obligations of friendship that are very different from those of...

Time

The Canterbury Tales constantly mark the passing of time. The narrator often tells us exactly what time it was when a particular event occurred, and even the way he (or the Host) arrived at this ca...

Lies and Deceit

Many of the pilgrims in the General Prologue are trying to appear to be something they're not. The Prioress wants to appear to be a courtly dilettante. The Merchant would like people to think he's...

Spirituality

Since there are many religious figures in The Canterbury Tales, we would expect religion and its attendant subjects to be a common topic, and it is. The biggest question about holiness in the Tales...
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