In his tales, Chaucer frequently discusses the social evils of the society. The Miller’s Tale brings out the subjects of infidelity, lust, and deception, in a comic manner. This is the second tale by Geoffrey Chaucer in the Canterbury Tales. The theme of Cuckoldry and the fear of infidelity come out clearly in the tale. Chaucer wants to depict the consequences of marrying a young wife at an old age. Such a couple does not match because, eventually, the wife may desire to experience intimate relations with a young man. The author does not support immorality, but he wants to show that still it exists in the society. Infidelity has been there for a long time and cannot be eradicated. Unlike most authors, such as Boccaccio, he does not judge the behavior openly. The narrator admits that though married, he does not care about the men his wife makes love to because God should not be questioned. Instead of judging infidelity, Chaucer mocks naivety of the involved characters.
Theme of Cuckoldry and the fear of infidelity
Infidelity occurs when Nicholas, a student, has sexual intercourse with the carpenter’s wife, aged eighteen years. Her name is Alisoun, and the carpenter’s name is John. The author wants to show that infidelity does not simply happen. This can be explained by the fact Alisoun resists to have close relations with Nicholas at first. She, in fact, threatens to cry for help when Nicholas grabs her. She fears that her husband, who is rather jealous because other men might admire her, might find them flirting. The author wants to show that infidelity occurs in exchange for something. Something must be lacking in a marriage for an individual to become unfaithful to the spouse. For example, Absolon, another admirer, buys Alisoun expensive items to make her have sex with him. His tactics fails, though, because the wife has already fallen in love with Nicholas. This shows that Alisoun needed love, and that is why she seems satisfied once she falls in love with Nicholas. This means that she did not love her husband. Lack of love makes her engage in infidelity. This could be because the husband was an old man who may not know how to properly express love. Nicholas, on the other hand, is a young student who knows what a modern woman wants when she comes in a relationship.
The author also uses trickery as a means to seduce one’s wife. Nicholas sends a servant to tell the carpenter that he feels sick and cannot move. John does not realize that Nicholas is faking his illness. He sympathizes with him and even takes care of him. Nicholas claims to have seen God’s vision, and that there would be flooding. “The flood shall be greater than that of Noah’s time” (Miller 70). He advises the carpenter to attach tubs somewhere on the roof where he would spend the night in preparation for the rain. According to Nicholas, they needed to pray the whole night in order to get spared. When the carpenter falls asleep, John takes the advantage to have intimate relations with Alisoun. This clearly shows how trickery goes hand in hand with infidelity.
Fear of infidelity makes people engage in immoral behavior. For example, Absolon runs to Alisoun in the morning to get a kiss. Alisoun allows the man to kiss her rear and the two love birds laugh a lot. This takes us to another point of revenge. Absolon wants to revenge because Alisoun refused to accept him for a lover. Therefore, he visits a blacksmith who gives him a hot poker. When he comes back, he demands another kiss, but instead of the lady bringing her buttock to be kissed, Nicholas extends his behind. “Nicholas brings his ass at the window”, (Miller 101) and he becomes branded. He starts screaming, looking for cold water.
The author believes that a man should never question the fidelity of his wife. This is likely to make the wife unfaithful as in the case of the carpenter’s marriage. Jealousy in marriage leads to infidelity when a spouse gets a chance. In The Miller’s Tale, the carpenter appears exceedingly jealous so that everyone knows about this issue. He feels insecure, perhaps because he is an old man, yet, the wife is a young lady whom other men admire. Therefore, John controls whatever his wife does in an attempt to keep her closer to himself. Further explanation of jealousy in marriage is that the wife will want to explore what it is that the husband protects her from so dearly. She will go on to experiment with other men. In case she finds them better than her man, she will keep on being faithful, but will never allow her husband to realize her infidelity.
Chaucer also believes that excessive drinking in marriage can lead to cuckoldry and infidelity. John’s drinking could be, yet, another reason as to why Alisoun becomes unfaithful towards her husband. The husband’s reasoning capacity must have gone down. When a wife realizes that her husband is incapable of making the right decisions, she will get bored which can lead to break up of a marriage. An old man who always gets drunk cannot be compared to a young, educated man. Any woman would prefer an intelligent man to an unlearned brute. Differences in the level of education lead to diverse social classes in the society. John often criticizes education, which Nicholas is going through. Social class can also be identified when Alisoun does not fit in the farm for being too delicate.
Marrying a much younger wife, according to Chaucer, justifies infidelity. John would have gone for a wife his age. Marrying a young lady comes out as injustice towards the lady. A lady needs a young man with whom she can interact freely. Chaucer, as mentioned earlier, speaks of social issues. Overtime, men have married young ladies who could qualify to be called their daughters. According to the author, these issues should fade, and ladies should be allowed to marry men of their choice. For example, if Alisoun feels comfortable with Nicholas, she should be allowed to have an affair with him. This would bring social justice. Once again, Alisoun feels comfortable with Nicholas because she does not agree to have sexual intercourse with Absolon. She argues that she loves Nicholas and, therefore, cannot play him with any other man. According to the author, issues of infidelity can disappear if old men stopped marrying young ladies.
The author wants to show that revenge can also lead to infidelity. Alisoun decides to revenge her husband’s jealousy. The tale tells us that John loved his wife and protected her so dearly. “John loved his wife more than he loved his own life”, (Miller 88). He was ready to do anything to keep his beautiful wife. The wife, on the other hand, feels unfortunate that her husband overprotects her so severely that she cannot have time with other men. She asks Nicholas to wait for the safe time for them to have an affair.
In this society, men are elucidated as disrespectful to women. First, it sounds weird that an old man can marry a girl aged eighteen. Alisoun appears surrounded by three disrespectful men, the first one being her husband. The other men include Nicholas and Absolon. All that Nicholas wants is to make love to the beautiful lady. He tries to get every opportunity just to have sex with her. Nicholas also has no respect for John, the old carpenter, who takes care of him. This makes him sleep with John’s wife when he should have respected both John and Alisoun. Absolon is also disrespectful to women because he kisses the woman’s rear in secret, yet he knows that the woman has a husband and has an affair with Nicholas. His lack of respect also comes out clearly when he goes to a blacksmith, who gives him a red poker to use it for revenge.
The author believes that infidelity in marriage leads to serious consequences. Alisoun endangers her husband when she allows him to sleep on the roof in order to be safe from the fake floods. The man blindly accepts to go to the roof, not knowing that Nicholas had a plan against him. The tale ends when the carpenter releases the tubs and falls to the ground, ending up breaking one of his arms. In fact, Nicholas and Alisoun claim that John has gone mad when he starts narrating the tale to the villagers who come after hearing the commotion. Nicholas also gets burnt using the hot poker by Absolon. Hatred occurs among men who fight for a single woman. John becomes the laughing stock in town for believing such nonsense. In the end, the villagers can be heard laughing at him for believing that a flood was to occur, which had not been heard by anyone else.
Cuckoldry occurs when the wife does not truly love her husband. The tale tells us that Alisoun agreed to marry John because he was rich. “John was a wealthy lout”, (Miller, 86). He was hard working, and he earned his money the hard way. Alisoun, on the other hand, knew how to play with men. She knew that she was beautiful and irresistible to men. She knew what she wanted in life, which included money and love. It would be easy to get money from the old carpenter, but Nicholas would give her love, which she desperately needed at her tender age.
The author brings out the idea that infidelity occurs along with several other vices such as treachery and hypocrisy. When Nicholas tells John about the flood, he advises him not to tell anyone. If he dared tell anyone, God would have punished him. Nicholas, whose aim is to have intimate relations with the carpenter’s wife, further tells John that he, too, would not have intercourse with Alisoun because that would lead to punishment from God. He, in fact, refers to that as adultery to make John believe that he had seen God’s image. Treachery comes out when John runs with tears of joy that all would be well. Alisoun advises her husband to run for their safety. “Go my dear spouse, and help to save our life”, (Miller 96). This explains that the wife enjoyed the fact that her husband could not control her that night. Finally, she would spend time with Nicholas whom she loved.
In conclusion, The Millers Tale is a story revolving around infidelity in marriage. Infidelity in this case comes as a result of trickery, as well as revenge. Alisoun and Nicholas’ act of having close relations portrays betrayal to the community. The community appears to accept infidelity, which is a social vice. “This is the way of the world” (Miller 11). The old carpenter knows that infidelity can easily happen in a marriage. Therefore, he protects his wife from other men who he believes might initiate it. The society accepts infidelity as the villagers laugh at John, whose wife has sex with a young man. The reader would expect the society to condemn such an act, but instead, everyone is sincerely laughing at the situatuion. People appear to believe that such acts must occur when one spouse is not careful. Overprotecting a spouse promotes infidelity, especially when one of the sides feels uncomfortable. The language used by the characters shows a lot of infidelity, but it comes out as irony. For example, when John runs to tell his wife about the flood, he says, “She was better taught thereof than he, how all this rigmarole was to apply” (Miller 96). The above statement suggests infidelity.
The author reveals that people take advantage of the most vulnerable individuals for their own benefit. For example, Nicholas takes advantage of John, who appears to make the wrong judgments throughout the tale. He tricks him that a flood would occur and that it would sweep everyone on the planet. John blindly believes this without any questioning. Indeed, he worries about his wife’s safety, but Nicholas is quick to assure him that the wife would be safe. Nicholas also takes advantage of Alisoun, a young lady, married to a carpenter. He knows that the lady cannot resist him because he is young and attractive as compared to John. Alisoun uses sweet words when he tells the husband to run for their safety. She knows that such words could not make the husband suspect her affair with Nicholas. In conclusion, the author does not condemn openly cuckoldry and infidelity. He condemns actions of the involved characters. For example, John’s stupidity can be blamed for his wife being unfaithful. John pretends to overprotect her, but when he hears her flirt with other men, he does not take measures. He only advises the wife to stop that. Therefore, men can be blamed when their wives become unfaithful.