The Canterbury Tales: The Wife of Bath's Prologue
by Geoffrey Chaucer
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
On several occasions, the Wife compares herself and other women to loaves of bread. The first time, she likens virgins to wheat bread and wives to the less-expensive and coarser barley bread. Her point is that like white bread, virgins may be preferable, but that barley bread is equally nutritious.
Also at this moment, the Wife connects bread to refreshment by saying that Jesus "refresshed" many men with barley bread (152), which connects the Wife's bread imagery to sex in her reference to a desire to be "refreshed" half so often as Solomon of the hundred wives (38). The Wife also connects her bread imagery to sex by declaring an intention to bestow the "flour" of her age in the acts and fruits of marriage (119).
Finally, the Wife gets additional mileage out of the bread metaphor when she compares the sexuality of her youth to wheat and that of her age to bran, declaring "The flour is goon, ther is namoore to telle, / The bren as I best kan now mooste I selle" (483-484). Here she plays upon the status of bread's raw materials as market commodities to convey one of her favorite ideas about sex, drawing attention to the way that sex, like flour or bran, is for sale.