The Canterbury Tales: The Miller's Tale
Analysis: What's Up With the Ending?
A lot of people regard the end of "The Miller's Tale" as the cleverest of Chaucer's endings, if not one of the cleverest endings of all time. Why? Well, a lot of it has to do with how Nicholas's single exclamation, "Water!," neatly wraps up all of the balls the plot has been juggling up until this point. The love triangle between Nicholas, Absolon, and Alisoun reaches its climax, and the Miller's belief that a great flood is coming seems to be vindicated, causing him to cut the rope that's attaching him to the ceiling, which brings him crashing to the floor.
Many people also take satisfaction in the way the ending to "The Miller's Tale" punishes some of the characters, giving them the "just reward" they seem to be asking for: squeamish Absolon gets a fart in the face while Nicholas gets branded on his nether parts by a hot iron.
But what is John, the carpenter, being punished for? Our narrator claims it's jealousy, but John fails to demonstrate any in the course of the tale. Instead, it seems the Miller is being punished for not being as clever as Nicholas, and for being too trusting. The extent of his punishment – a horrendous fall from his rafters and the derision of the townspeople – doesn't seem to fit his "crime." Add to this the fact that Alisoun is also at fault, yet gets no punishment whatsoever, and the idea that the characters in "The Miller's Tale" get their just rewards begins to break down. The ending is far less equitable than it first appears – although just as clever.