The Canterbury Tales: The Miller's Tale
by Geoffrey Chaucer
Take a story's temperature by studying its tone. Is it hopeful? Cynical? Snarky? Playful?
As we mention in "Narrator Point of View," the narrator of "The Miller's Tale" usually describes characters and events without adding much personal insight or involvement. By refraining from bringing any judgment or commentary to the events of the story, the narrator creates a "deadpan" tone. The humor in this tone derives from the contrast between the nature of the events and the straightforward manner in which they're described, which fails to acknowledge this humor. For example, in perhaps the funniest moment in "The Miller's Tale," when Absolon kisses Alisoun's bare butt, the narrator says only, "But with his mouth he kissed her naked ers / Ful savorly, er he wer war of this" (625-626). The narrator goes on to register Absolon's surprise at being confronted with a "beard" without ever acknowledging the humor of this scene. In truth, "The Miller's Tale" is funny enough that we don't need a narrator to tell us when to laugh.