The Canterbury Tales: Essay Topics & Samples
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In this article, you will find catchy and effective essay topics, essential tips, and useful examples. Are you ready to compose an outstanding paper on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales ? Take a look at our advice then.
- The Canterbury Tales – a glance to Medieval England. Explain how Geoffrey Chaucer presents the social system of Medieval England through the characters’ description. What classes does he introduce in the book? Elaborate on the drawbacks of society by providing examples from the text.
- The women’s role in The Canterbury Tales . How does the author portray the women in the book? Investigate the personality of the Wife of Bath . How does she look like, and what does she symbolize? Also, analyze her tale. What is the fundamental idea of the story? How does the Wife of Bath raise the issue of women’s desires?
- The church corruption. Analyze the religious representatives in the book. How do the Monk, the Pardoner, the Summoner, and the Friar’s look like? What clothes and accessories do they have? Elaborate on their lifestyles. How do these characters reflect on the ecclesiastical brunch problems?
- From light humor to harsh satire. How does Geoffery Chaucer mock the flaws of the social classes through humor and satire ? How do you think is such blatant ridicule of certain characters reasonable? Support your claims with examples and quotes from the book.
- The significance of the Knight. Analyze the character of the Knight . How does he behave? What does his clothing tell about him? Compare the Knight to the other characters. To make the contrast more visible, draw a parallel line between the Knight and the Miller . Support your statements with the quotes from the text.
- The Pardoner’s Tale and its relevance in the modern world. Briefly introduce the main characters of the story and their intentions. Why does a greedy nature drive them to commit cruel things? Compare the medieval times with the contemporary world. Is the Pardoner’s Tale still relatable? To make your essay even more dynamic, provide quotes from the text and real-life examples.
- Finding common ground. Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales impress with the vast diversity of archetypes presented in the book. Explain how all the pilgrims manage to find common ground despite all their differences. What is the Narrator’s and the Host’s role in establishing a connection between the travelers?
- Deceit as the core motif of the book. In The Canterbury Tales , the theme of lie and dishonesty appears in the prologue and numerous pilgrim’s tales. Why do the characters lie about their statuses? Explain how the travelers’ dishonesty characterizes the medieval society.
- The Miller’s Tale crudity. Analyze the Miller’s story full of rude and dirty jokes. What is the core idea of the tale? How does The Miller’s Tale reflect his personality? Provide appropriate quotes from the text to highlight Miller’s arrogance.
- The uniqueness of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Explore the distinctive features of the book. Comment on its unusual structure. What literary devices does Chaucer use to connect all the stories into one piece of writing? Explore the significance of the prologue in The Tales .
Even when you have a good idea, composing a good The Canterbury Tales essay can become a struggle. There are too many characters and stories in the book, so getting confused becomes extremely easy. Besides, the paper’s format and reasoning can be tricky to figure out.
Below, you’ll discover the essay samples about Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales that can help you write your own:
- “The Canterbury Tales” by Geoffrey Chaucer The Canterbury Tales is one of the most well-known collections of tales. The narrator tells a story of pilgrims who are on their way to Canterbury. In the present essay, the creation of characters is explained. The author identifies the instances of irony and humor and discusses exciting words.
- “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” by Geoffrey Chaucer The Wide of Bath’s Tale is one of the best know stories from The Canterbury Tales . Besides an engaging plot, it provides insight into the role of women in that time through the tale. The essay discusses the main characters, the usage of irony, and the setting of the story.
- “The Wife of Bath” and Chaucer’s Antifeminism Essay From The Canterbury Tales , it might seem that Chaucer is a feminist. His stories often portrayed men as immoral creatures. The present essay aims to answer whether Chaucer strived to highlight the topic of feminism in his works.
- Human Issues in Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’ Canterbury Tales is the reflection of people’s daily life in the Kingdom of England in the 14th century. Surprisingly, the majority of topics discussed by Geoffrey Chaucer are still relevant nowadays. What are these issues? Why do we discuss them in the 21st century? Find out in this essay!
- Marriage According to Geoffrey Chaucer and Jane Austen Marriage has always been a hotly debated topic. Therefore, many writers discuss this issue in their works. But what Geoffrey Chaucer’s and Jane Austen’s perspectives on marriage are? Read this essay to compare and contrast the opinions of two of the most outstanding English writers.
- The Canterbury Tales: The Knight’s Tale Analysis What was The Knight’s Tale about? Are there any symbols, hidden context, or undiscovered questions? What’s the moral of this story? Find the answers to these questions in this paper!
- Social Life in Canterbury Tales vs. Pride & Prejudice: Compare & Contrast Essay How do Geoffrey Chaucer and Jane Austen describe social life in their works? The author of this essay considers its aspects in The Canterbury Tales and Pride & Prejudice . Read it and find out some valuable insights.
- Social Satire in The Canterbury Tales Wondering how Chaucer ridicules the flaws of society so masterfully? He applies satire for this purpose! Describing social problems in a satirical way, the author highlights the importance of their quick resolution. Check out this essay to analyze social satire in The Canterbury Tales in detail.
- Character Analysis of the Knight from The Canterbury Tales The Knight is one of the central figures in The Canterbury Tales. Therefore, a clear understanding of his personality is vital for the comprehension of the entire book. Read this essay to get an in-depth analysis of the Knight.
- Analysis of “The Miller’s Tale” from Canterbury Tales Among a wide variety of stories included in The Canterbury Tales , The Miller’s Tale turns out to be one of the spiciest ones. Why would Chaucer have such a story in his book? Search for an answer in the essay! Get a detailed analysis of The Miller’s Tale here .
- A Criticism of the Church in Canterbury Tales Religion has always been a controversial topic. If we talk about its role in 14th century England, the church becomes another intriguing issue to discuss. Examine this essay to find out about the weak sides of the church in Chaucer’s time.
- The Symbolism of Clothes in Canterbury Tales The way you dress up can reflect your personality. This is the case in The Canterbury Tales as well. Chaucer puts an emphasis on everyone’s clothing in the book. That’s why the author of the essay investigates the symbolic meaning of each character’s clothes. Check it out to gain some insights!
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Home — Essay Samples — Literature — The Canterbury Tales — Honesty And Humor In The Canterbury Tales
Honesty and Humor in The Canterbury Tales
- Subject: Literature
- Category: Books
- Essay Topic: Book Review , Literature Review , The Canterbury Tales
- Words: 1128
- Published: 18 March 2021
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The Canterbury Tales
By geoffrey chaucer, the canterbury tales study guide.
The Canterbury Tales is at once one of the most famous and most frustrating works of literature ever written. Since its composition in late 1300s, critics have continued to mine new riches from its complex ground, and started new arguments about the text and its interpretation. Chaucer’s richly detailed text, so Dryden said, was “God’s plenty”, and the rich variety of the Tales is partly perhaps the reason for its success. It is both one long narrative (of the pilgrims and their pilgrimage) and an encyclopedia of shorter narratives; it is both one large drama, and a compilation of most literary forms known to medieval literature: romance, fabliau, Breton lay, moral fable, verse romance, beast fable, prayer to the Virgin… and so the list goes on. No single literary genre dominates the Tales. The tales include romantic adventures, fabliaux, saint's biographies, animal fables, religious allegories and even a sermon, and range in tone from pious, moralistic tales to lewd and vulgar sexual farces. More often than not, moreover, the specific tone of the tale is extremely difficult to firmly pin down.
This, indeed, is down to one of the key problems of interpreting the Tales themselves - voice: how do we ever know who is speaking? Because Chaucer, early in the Tales, promises to repeat the exact words and style of each speaker as best he can remember it, there is always a tension between Chaucer and the pilgrim's voice he ventriloquises as he re-tells his tale: even the "Chaucer" who is a character on the pilgrim has a distinct and deliberately unChaucerian voice. Is it the Merchant’s voice – and the Merchant’s opinion – or Chaucer’s? Is it Chaucer the character or Chaucer the writer? If it is Chaucer’s, are we supposed to take it at face value, or view it ironically? It is for this reason that, throughout this ClassicNote, a conscious effort has been made to refer to the speaker of each tale (the Merchant, in the Merchant’s Tale, for example) as the “narrator”, a catch-all term which represents both of, or either one of, Chaucer and the speaker in question.
No-one knows for certain when Chaucer began to write the Tales – the pilgrimage is usually dated 1387, but that date is subject to much scholarly argument – but it is certain that Chaucer wrote some parts of the Tales at different times, and went back and added Tales to the melting pot. The Knight ’s Tale, for example, was almost certainly written earlier than the Canterbury project as a separate work, and then adapted into the voice of the Knight; and the Second Nun’s Tale, as well as probably the Monk’s, probably have a similar compositional history.
Chaucer drew from a rich variety of literary sources to create the Tales, though his principal debt is likely to Boccaccio’s Decameron , in which ten nobles from Florence, to escape the plague, stay in a country villa and amuse each other by each telling tales. Boccaccio likely had a significant influence on Chaucer. The Knight's Tale was an English version of a tale by Boccaccio, while six of Chaucer's tales have possible sources in the Decameron: the Miller's Tale, the Reeve's, the Clerk's, the Merchant's, the Franklin's, and the Shipman's. However, Chaucer's pilgrims to Canterbury form a wider range of society compared to Boccaccio's elite storytellers, allowing for greater differences in tone and substance.
The text of the Tales itself does not survive complete, but in ten fragments (see ‘The texts of the Tales’ for further information and specific orders). Due to the fact that there are no links made between these ten fragments in most cases, it is extremely difficult to ascertain precisely in which order Chaucer wanted the tales to be read. This ClassicNote corresponds to the order followed in Larry D. Benson’s “Riverside Chaucer”, which is undoubtedly the best edition of Chaucer currently available.
The Canterbury Tales Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Canterbury Tales is a great resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
The prologue to centerbury tales
The main theme of the prologue?
The Canterbury tales
The Parliament of Fowls is a dream-vision. We see even at the beginning, the speaker describes how the narrator falls asleep while reading Cicero’s Somnium Scipionis [ The Dream of Scipio ], and then dreams of the parliament of birds which follows....
What is the subject of all the stories the monk tells?
Study Guide for The Canterbury Tales
The Canterbury Tales is the last of Geoffrey Chaucer's works, and he only finished 24 of an initially planned 100 tales. The Canterbury Tales study guide contains a biography of Geoffrey Chaucer, literature essays, a complete e-text, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis.
- About The Canterbury Tales
- The Canterbury Tales Summary
- The Canterbury Tales General Prologue Video
- Character List
Essays for The Canterbury Tales
The Canterbury Tales is considered one of the greatest works produced in Middle English. The Canterbury Tales essays are academic essays for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer.
- "Love" in the Courtly Tradition
- On Cuckoldry: Women, Silence, and Subjectivity in the Merchant's Tale and the Manciple's Tale
- Vision, Truth, and Genre in the Merchant's Tale
- In Private: the Promise in The Franklin's Tale
- Feminism or Anti-Feminism: Images of Women in Chaucer's "The Wife of Bath"
Lesson Plan for The Canterbury Tales
- About the Author
- Study Objectives
- Common Core Standards
- Introduction to The Canterbury Tales
- Relationship to Other Books
- Bringing in Technology
- Notes to the Teacher
- Related Links
- The Canterbury Tales Bibliography
E-Text of The Canterbury Tales
The Canterbury Tales e-text contains the full text of The Canterbury Tales written by Geoffrey Chaucer.
- Life of Geoffrey Chaucer
- The Knight's Tale
- The Miller's Tale
Wikipedia Entries for The Canterbury Tales
- Genre and structure
The Canterbury Tales
Introduction to the canterbury tales.
The Canterbury Tales is known as the foundational English literary book of tales written in verse style by Geoffrey Chaucer . The author is famous as one of the pioneers of English poetry. The book was likely published around 1387 to 1400 when Chaucer joined the royal court. The stories, in verses, though some are in prose , present the social norms, characters, situations, and religious devotion of the pilgrims presented in them. The stories became so much popular and are considered classics across the globe.
Summary of The Canterbury Tales
The book opens with The General Prologue and introduces a gathering of all the characters at the Tabard Inn tavern in London , ready to on the pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint Thomas in the town of Canterbury. The prologue shows a total of 77 persons, including some from the religious order, such as the Friar and the Monk, and social order, such as the Squire and the Knight, with some examples from the lower order. Harry Bailey, the host, throws the suggestion for each guest to narrate a story to pass the time during the long journey. The first tale is told by a knight known as The Knight’s Tale, which is about Theseus, the duke of Athens, who imprisons two Theban knights for violating a local norm.
Arcite, one of them, is freed, but then he returns to win the freedom of Palamon. He seeks refuge from Emelye, the sister of Theseus, with whom both have fallen in love earlier. She also is the reason for their banishment from the land. Meanwhile, Palamon escapes with their help and faces arrest. Theseus, then, forces them into dual for Emelye, in which Arcite wins but dies in the accident, while Emelye marries Palamon.
The second tale by Miller comprises the story of a poor student, Nicholas, who seduces his landlord’s wife, Alisoun, and terrifies him with an impending flood. A young priest is also in love with the same lady and asks her for a kiss, at which Nicholas plays a trick by thrusting out his bottom. Enraged, the young clerk brands his buttock with a hot poker when he does the same second time. Meanwhile, the landlord falls in frustration after he thinks that the flood has arrived and fractures his arm.
The third tale of Reeve contradicts Miller’s story of the stupid carpenter, considering it a criticism of him. He narrates the story of the dishonest miller, saying the miller robs the students by untying their horses, after which they run after them to catch them. Meanwhile, he steals their belongings. When they return, it is night . So, they are forced to stay with the miller, after which one of them seduces his daughter, and the other seduces his wife. When both husband and wife start a brawl in confusion, the students take their goods and run away. Later, the Cook also takes part in it and starts narrating the story of Perkyn Reveler but leaves it unfinished when a lawyer takes the stage.
When the lawyer or the Man of Law takes the stage, he apologizes and starts the story of the Muslim Sultan of Syria, his romance with the Roman girl, Custance, and her escape in the midst of the conflict between Islam and Christianity. Next, the Wife of Bath stands up to narrate her story after quoting from the Bible and stating her submissiveness to the five husbands she has married from time to time. She also berates the Friar for the interruption, after which the Host intervenes and asks her to narrate her tale about the knight of King Arthur, his rape, atonement, and winning of a beautiful as well as faithful wife, after which the Friar starts his tale.
The Friar narrates the story of a lecherous summoner who has his own spying network when working with an archdeacon. Once he calls a yeoman but confronts the devil in disguise, after which the devil drags him to hell, following which the summoner also retaliates with his own tale about a friar after clarification that there is no difference between the two. He states that when an angel was going to hell, he had around 20,000 friars with him. Following this, a little incident happens between a friar and Thomas, after which the friar complains to the squire.
This incident follows the Clerk’s tale, who narrates a beautiful tale of a farmer and his wife in which the farmer tests his wife and promises to live with her forever in case she passes the test. When the Merchant’s turn comes, he starts narrating the story about the evils of marriage, saying that a knight, January , marries May, who cheats on him, at which the Host prays that God must save them from such wives. Then the Squire starts his tale about love, narrating the story of King Cambyuskan that he leaves unfinished, whereas the Franklin starts his tale through a ballad in which he narrates the love story of Dorigen and Arveragus.
The physician also intervenes with his tale and starts narrating the story of Virginia, a tempting woman, who beheads herself at her father’s appeal instead of being handed over to Claudius. The Pardoner, waiting for his story, steps in after him and starts his story about morality. He tells about three young men looking for death. When they reach an old man, he directs them to a tree where they find gold bushels and kill each other for having all of them. The story creates bad blood between the Host and the Pardoner, but the Knight steps in to resolve the brawl, asking the Shipman to narrate his tale to reconcile them and resolve the situation.
Starting his tale with the monk’s degenerate nature, the Shipman tells his sexual advances toward the wife of a merchant, who realizes her mistake and asks her husband to forgive the debt. When the Prioress hears this tale, she starts her own story of the issue between a Jew who kills a devout Christian boy but then starts singing the song of Gracious Mother the boy was singing earlier when he got killed.
Following this, the Host asks Chaucer to narrate some tale at which he starts the story of Sir Thopas and his bawdy exploits. However, the Host gets irked and stops him, after which he starts the story of Melibee whose wife forgives all the attackers. When Chaucer finishes it, the Monk starts stories of Sampson, Hercules, Pedro, and Lucifer to come to a common point of the tragic fall, which the Nun comes forward and starts her tale of a rooster and a fox, followed by another Nun who narrates her story about Saint Cecilia after which the Yeoman starts making claims about the exploits he has performed with the help of Canon , who is with him.
When he finishes, the Manciple takes the stage and narrates his tale after lashing out at the cook for missing his turn to narrate the story. Then he narrates the story of a white crow and asks the Host to invite the Parson for his tale, who delivers a lecture on the deadly sins, after which Chaucer takes the stage to seek apology from readers in case the book proves lacking in anything.
Major Themes in The Canterbury Tales
- Social Satire : The Canterbury Tales is a satire on the existing society of that time. The author describes the three pillars, the church, the nobility, as well as the peasantry, and their corruption and degrading morality. Chaucer includes all the characters of the society, such as the knight, the squire, the Wife of Bath, the Nun, the Friar, the Cook, etc. Then he proves that highly any character is upright and pious as they are supposed to be. He shows that most of them are quite allergic to their actual duties and poke their noses quite often into the fields irrelevant to their calling. This satire on society is apparent in the Nun’s tales of the rooster and the fox, while the Wife of Bath shows a different side of the social structure when she argues her own case contradictory to the prevalent religious logic. In fact, the very thematic strand of the satire starts with the Host himself, and it continues with the religious characters, such as the hypocrisy of the Friar, and then with the Miller as well as the greedy Pardoner.
- Courtly Love and Lasciviousness: The Canterbury Tales shows the theme of love and lasciviousness through the tales of the Knight, the Miller, and the Wife of Bath, who narrate their tales about both of these points. The Knight’s Tale shows this love for the fair lady that leads to a duel in which they forget their personal duties, while the Squire is busy writing poetry and ballads in the praise of his fair lady. The same goes for the Wife of Bath, who is busy with carnal advances, while Miller demonstrates this sensual desire present in different individuals.
- Religious Corruption: Although it is mild and somewhat latent in ironic remarks of different characters, Chaucer lets his character engage in religious criticism. This happens through different characters who show it through their corrupt practices, such as the greed of Pardoner and the lasciviousness of the Friar, who is a hypocrite to the core. Similarly, the tale of the Pardoner also demonstrates the corruption prevalent among different religious characters, who are hoarding and extracting money rather than performing their duties.
- Competition: The competition between different persons, individuals, and professionals is an apparent theme when explored in the tale of the Knight. The Knight demonstrates this competition going on between both groups; the elder as well as the young. The first group involves two Knights who go for a duel to win a lady, while the Squire is busy writing in the praise of his fair lady. The other competition in The Canterbury Tales is between the storytellers who are jockeying to lead the others and jostling to take their turns first. For example, the Miller is too eager to speak, while the Nun also takes the lead.
- Christianity: The Canterbury Tales show the significance of Christianity from the very title that the pilgrims are on their way to Canterbury and that they are telling stories to pass their time. Therefore, the Host calls the Christian figures, while Chaucer also relates to some Christian teachings and issues. The Christian figures included in the tales are the Nun, the Parson, the Friar, and the Monk. However, it is not necessary that their tales represent their duties or professions. They merely narrate tales to show that they, too, are taking part in the drive to pass the time during their travel to Canterbury.
- Class: The theme of class in The Canterbury Tales is apparent through different characters selected from different walks of life to narrate a story during the journey. For example, where Chaucer presents the characters from the Church, such as the Nun or the Friar. He has also mentioned professionals such as the Miller and the Merchant, the Peasant, the Knight, and so on. In fact, these characters have presented their respective classes as well as the prominent features of the class, whether the class is good or bad.
- Deception: The theme of deception is significant as several characters highlight this trait through their behavior as well as their tales. The Merchant appears wealthy, but his story shows that he is in debt. He is also involved in deception, stealing, and selling flour back to his customers. The greed of the Pardoner also forces him to extract money from the people, while the Wife of Bath also shows the same character by marrying different persons by deception.
- Justice and Judgement: The Canterbury Tales shows that justice and judgment are two different things. While justice means to give a person his due share, judgment means to decide about a person from his appearances. The Knight’s Tale shows an entirely different character of the Knight as judged by his appearance, although justice has been shown through a duel. The same goes with the Merchant, whose tale forces the audience to judge the marriage of January from their perspective .
- Rivalry: The significance of the theme of rivalry in The Canterbury Tales is seen in the characters going on the journey as well as in the characters presented in the story. For example, the duel between the knights in The Knight’s Tale is also a rivalry, though it is not very much obvious.
- Storytelling: The significance of storytelling lies in that every character, whether he is religious, professional, or a common individual, has to narrate a story during the journey.
Major Characters of The Canterbury Tales
- Chaucer: Chaucer is the author and also displays himself as one of the characters of The Canterbury Tales. He claims it so at different places when the narrators stop, and he talks to the Host. However, the readers must be cautious to accept him as Chaucer presents in the stories on account of his presentation of different characters closely with the claim that he is a gregarious and naïve fellow. Even the Host is fed up with his silence and calls him a sullen person. As he paints different pictures through his recollection of memories, it is up to him to paint somebody good or bad. Thus, it is Chaucerian prejudice or bias that his writing exudes.
- The Knight: The Knight is a significant character who appears to be ahead in the social hierarchy as well as in the storytelling, while the Host is also captivated by his manners and qualities. His ideals are the same as expected during the medieval time. He possesses chivalry, honor, freedom, and truth. His narrative is full of his military exploits, considered insignia of bravery and courage during those times. His battle exploits in the foreign lands win him trust, honor, and respect, while his personality exudes awe among the audience. His interaction with other characters also sheds some light on his general demeanor with others and his status among them.
- The Wife of Bath: She is the second significant character whom Chaucer gives some time to describe her character in detail. Her appearances show her lascivious nature, which is another evidence of her immorality. Her claim of having expertise in marriages, too, seems to go in the opposite direction to her current intention of wearing religious robes to accompany the religious pilgrims. It soon transpires that she has accompanied them only to satisfy her love for traveling.
- The Miller: The character of the Miller is significant in the course of the tales in that he represents a common greedy individual whose temperamental appetite is toward greediness. His broad chest and shoulders demonstrate his lusty nature, showing him indulging in dishonest practices comprising charging double and stealing from the grain given to him for grinding. His arrogance makes him stand up after the Knight to narrate his version of the story.
- The Parson: One of the respected characters in The Canterbury Tales, the Parson demonstrates patience and virtuosity. His few character traits are enough to show the life of priests during those times. Although he is quite low in the religious order, his knowledge and Christian devotion speak volumes about his ability to run a parish. His saintly nature also resembles the teachings of Jesus, while Chaucer points to his learning and teaching dedication.
- The Pardoner: A very lowly figure in the Christian religious hierarchy, the Pardoner represents marginality, showing dubiousness of his character in extending pardons to different sinners after their confessions. In a way, it shows his doubt in deceiving the parishioners into giving donations that he obviously keeps a portion to himself. His skills of conning even extend to counterfeiting the signature of the higher authorities, showing predatory nature.
- The Host: The Host lies is kind of a central character among the pilgrims. As once one of the narrators ends his tales, they turn to him to point out the turn of the next narrator . He also interrupts when the storytellers involve in arguments or brawls and interacts with the other pilgrims about their social roles when going through this journey.
- The Merchant: The merchant represents the trading class involved in financial manipulation through lending and borrowing. The tricky nature of such classes lies in the never-to-face loss methods, as the Merchant shows through his appearance, outfits, and story.
- The Clerk: A good character, the Clerk falls very low in the hierarchy of the Christian order, showing the sincerity and pious nature of his class. His story also shows the same devotion to true Christianity and his duties.
- The Sergeant of Law: A professional lawyer and highly social person, the Sergeant of Law show his significance through his clients who come to consult him regarding their legal issues. Chaucer offers him as an impeccable legal professional with high regard for his profession
Writing Style of The Canterbury Tales
The Canterbury Tales is written in the heroic couplet . It shows not only the poetic skills of Chaucer but also his descriptive and narrative skills respectively through character descriptions and narrations of each character. Chaucer’s use of diction corresponds with his satire and irony , while for figurative devices, he turns to personifications and similes.
Analysis of the Literary Devices in The Canterbury Tales
- Action: The main action The Canterbury Tales comprises a journey of several pilgrims to Canterbury with different experiences.
- Alliteration : The Canterbury Tales shows the use of alliteration in the following examples, i. And the small fowl are making melody That sleep away the night with open eye. (The Prologue) ii. He’d seen some service with the cavalry In Flanders and Artois and Picardy. (The Prologue) iii. Now old King Creon – O alas, alas! – The Lord of Thebes, grown cruel in his age. (The Knight’s Tale) iv. May the Lord send me misery and care If ever, since they called me Hodge of Ware. (The Cook’s Tale) v. Says Solomon in Ecclesiasticus, For guests who stay the night are dangerous. (The Cook’s Tale) These examples show the use of consonant sounds such as the sound of /m/, /m/, /k/, /m/ and then /s/ occurring after an interval, creating melody and rhythm in poetry.
- Allusion : The below sentences are good examples of allusions, i. For he was Epicurus’ very son, In whose opinion sensual delight Was the one true felicity in sight. As noted as St Julian was for bounty He made his household free to all the County. (The Prologue) ii. That there was once a Duke called Theseus, Ruler of Athens, Lord and Governor, And in his time so great a conqueror There was none mightier beneath the sun. And many a rich country he had won. (The Knight’s Tale) iii. When all had laughed at the preposterous lark Of Absalon and Nicholas the Spark, Various folk made various comment after; But the majority dissolved in laughter. (The Reeve’s Tale) iv. Says Solomon in Ecclesiasticus, For guests who stay the night are dangerous. (The Cook’s Tale) These examples show the use of different historical and religious allusion such as the allusions of St. Julian, Theseus, Athens, Abaslon, Nicholas and Solomon show.
- Characters: The novel , The Canterbury Tales, shows diverse characters from antiquity. These characters include the Host, the Knight, The Miller, the Wife of Bath, the Squire, The Friar, and the Nun.
- Heroic Couplet: The following sentences are few examples of heroic couplets in the book, i. When in April the sweet showers fall And pierce the drought of March to the root , and all The veins are bathed in liquor of such power As brings about the engendering of the flower . (The Prologue) ii. And on the very outskirts of the town In all felicity and height of pride Became aware, casting an eye aside , That kneeling on the highway, two by two. (The Knight’s Tale) iii. When all had laughed at the preposterous lark Of Absalon and Nicholas the Spark, Various folk made various comment after; But the majority dissolved in laughter. (The Reeve’s Tale) These examples show the use of heroic couplets as the two verses rhyme with each other with rhyming words such as fall and all, power and flower, pride and aside, lark and spark, and then after and laughter.
- Imagery : The following sentences are examples of imagery , i. When in April the sweet showers fall And pierce the drought of March to the root, and all The veins are bathed in liquor of such power As brings about the engendering of the flower, When also Zephyrus with his sweet breath Exhales an air in every grove and heath Upon the tender shoots, and the young sun His half-course in the sign of the Ram has run, And the small fowl are making melody That sleep away the night with open ey. (The Prologue) ii. Once, long ago, there dwelt a poor old widow In a small cottage, by a little meadow Beside a grove and standing in a dale. This widow-woman of whom I tell my tale Since the sad day when last she was a wife Had led a very patient, simple life. Little she had in capital or rent, But still, by making do with what God sent, She kept herself and her two daughters going. (The Nun Priest’s Tale) These two examples show images of seasons, feelings, sight, color and emotions.
- Irony : The Canterbury Tales shows examples of irony in the following sentences, i. There also was a Nun, a Prioress, Her way of smiling very simple and coy. Her greatest oath was only ‘By St Loy!’ And she was known as Madam Eglantyne. (The Prologue) ii. He sees the mote in my eye, if there is un, But cannot see the beam there is in his’n. (The Reeve’s Tale) iii. And there she ate full many a slender meal; There was no sauce piquante to spice her veal, No dainty morsel ever passed her throat, According to her cloth she cut her coat. (The Nun’s Priest’s Tale) These examples show the use of irony such as the first one shows the Nun swearing but not actually, the second shows how the Reeve sees a mote and the third shows presence of every sauce but not dainty morsel.
- Metaphor : The Canterbury Tales shows good use of metaphors in the following sentences, i. Young Emily, that fairer was of mien Than is the lily on its stalk of green, And fresher in her colouring that strove With early roses in a May-time grove. (The Knight’s Tale) ii. Rose and arrayed her beauty as was right, For May will have no sluggardry at night, Season that pricks in every gentle heart, Awaking it from sleep, and bids it start. (The Knight’s Tale) iii. Well is it said that neither love nor power Admit a rival, even for an hour. (The Knight’s Tale) iv. You fool! Your wits have gone beyond recall.’ ‘Now listen,’ said the Miller, ‘one and all, To what I have to say. But first I’m bound To say I’m drunk, I know it by my sound. (The Miller’s Tale) v. For even now I have a coltish tooth, Many as be the years now dead and done Before my tap of life began to run. Certain, when I was born, so long ago, Death drew the tap of life and let it flow; And ever since the tap has done its task, And now there’s little but an empty cask. My stream of life’s but drops upon the rim. An old fool’s tongue will run away with him To chime and chatter of monkey-tricks that’s past; There’s nothing left but dotage at the last!’ (The Reeve’s Tlae) These examples show that several things have been compared directly in the novel such as the first shows Emily compared to a lily, the second shows seasons compared to moods, the third shows love and power having human traits, the fourth shows wits compared to some person, while the last one is an extended metaphor comparing life to different things.
- Mood : The book, The Canterbury Tales, shows a very pleasant mood in the beginning but turns out to be highly ironic and satiric at some points.
- Narrator : The book, The Canterbury Tales, is narrated by Chaucer himself, but he also presents characters narrating their tales in the first person narrative.
- Paradox : The following sentences are examples of paradox , i. My dear old brother Oswald, such is life . A man’s no cuckold if he has no wife. For all that, I’m not saying you are one; There’s many virtuous wives, all said and done. (The Miller’s Tale) ii. Their tales as told, for better or for worse, For else I should be false to what occurred. So if this tale had better not be heard, Just turn the page and choose another sort; You’ll find them here in plenty, long and short;” (The Miller’s Tale) These examples show that the writer has put paradoxical ideas or things together.
- Personification : The below sentences are examples of personifications, i. When also Zephyrus with his sweet breath Exhales an air in every grove and heath Upon the tender shoots, and the young sun His half-course in the sign of the Ram has run. (The Prologue) ii. They made us easy, all was of the best. And, briefly, when the sun had gone to rest. (The Prologue) iiii. But none the less, while I have time and space, Before my story takes a further pace. (The Prologue) iv. ‘Cousin, believe me, your opinion springs From ignorance and vain imaginings. (The Knight’s Tale) v. This lady as she roamed there to and fro, And, at the sight, her beauty hurt him so That if his cousin had felt the wound before, Arcite was hurt as much as he, or more. (The Knight’s Tale) These examples show as if Zephyrus, the sun, the story, opinions, and beauty have life and emotions of their own.
- Setting : The setting of the novel, The Canterbury Tales, is the way to Canterbury from London.
- Simile : The below sentences show good use of similes, i. Our Host, on hearing all this sermoning, Began to speak as lordly as a king, And said, ‘What does it come to, all this wit ? What! Spend the morning talking Holy Writ? (The Reeve’s Tale) ii. There was a miller lived there many a day As proud as any peacock and as gay; He could play bag-pipes too, fish, mend his gear, And turn a lathe, and wrestle, and poach deer. (The Reeve’s Tale) iii. The Cook, in joy to hear the Miller pickled, Laughed like a man whose back is being tickled. (The Cook’s Tale) iv. (Fair Pertelote was next him on the perch), This Chanticleer began to groan and lurch Like someone sorely troubled by a dream , And Pertelote who heard him roar and scream. (The Nun’s Priest’s Tale) The first simile shows the comparison between the sound of the Host and that of the king, the second shows a comparison between the miller and a peacock, the third shows a comparison between the Miller and a tickled man, and the last one shows a comparison between the troubled man and the rooster. Note that almost all the similes use the word “like.”
- The Canterbury Tales Themes
- The Canterbury Tales Characters
- Geoffrey Chaucer
Beatrix Potter’s famous tales are rooted in stories told by enslaved Africans – but she was very quiet about their origins
Reader in Postcolonial Literature, Leeds Beckett University
Emily Zobel Marshall does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Leeds Beckett University provides funding as a member of The Conversation UK.
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Peter Rabbit, the cute and wily bunny who wears a bright blue jacket, is the best-selling creation of English author Beatrix Potter. Originally published in 1902, the Tale of Peter Rabbit – the first of 23 tales in the series – has since been translated into more than 45 languages and sold over 45 million copies.
Peter’s home is the Lake District in north-west England, among ancient stone walls and picturesque rolling hedgerows that crisscross emerald fields. Heralded as Britain’s best-loved children’s author , Potter received much praise for her originality as well as her artistic and literary skills during her lifetime, and these “thoroughly English” tales continue to captivate young readers all over the world. The author was a frontrunner to appear on the UK’s latest £20 note , but was beaten by the painter J.M.W. Turner.
It is popularly held that Potter conceived of her tales in 1893, while writing to the sickly son of her friend and former governess, Annie Moore. In these letters she wrote and illustrated stories featuring her pet rabbit, Peter Piper.
As a scholar of folktales and postcolonial literature, however, I spend a lot of time tracing the roots of stories and examining the impact of colonial legacies on them. While rereading another collection of children’s stories featuring the “trickster hero” Brer Rabbit – for my own book on how these folktales were introduced to North America by enslaved Africans – it became clear to me that the similarities between Beatrix Potter’s tales and the Brer Rabbit stories demand further consideration.
This article is part of Conversation Insights The Insights team generates long-form journalism derived from interdisciplinary research. The team is working with academics from different backgrounds who have been engaged in projects aimed at tackling societal and scientific challenges.
The tales of Brer Rabbit can be traced back to pre-colonial Africa, from where they were transported to the plantations of America by enslaved people . The stories were first adapted for a white audience in the late 19th century by the American journalist and folklorist Joel Chandler Harris .
Harris created a fictional African American narrator for his stories, Uncle Remus , whose name became the popular title for his collections. Brer Rabbit is a cunning trickster who lives in a briar (bramble) patch and outwits larger animals using his brains rather than his brawn.
In her 2008 biography of Potter, A Life in Nature , Linda Lear notes that while the author’s “first audience was British”, her work was strongly influenced by Harris – “whose Brer Rabbit stories she had loved as a child”. Lear also writes that Potter’s tales “were favourably compared to Uncle Remus in early reviews of her work”.
And yet, I was amazed to realise how little comment there has been over the years about the many similarities between Potter’s tales and the Africa-originated Brer Rabbit folktales. Indeed, one of the most striking references, cited in Lear’s biography, is found in a letter that Potter herself wrote to her publisher, Harold Warne, on November 18 1911 . The letter is about her new Peter Rabbit story The Tale of Mr Tod, and directly refers to her use of the Uncle Remus folktales in this work:
I think the story is amusing; its principal defect is its imitation of ‘Uncle Remus’. It is no drawback for children, because they cannot read the Negro vernacular. I hardly think the publishers could object to it? I wrote it some time ago. I have copied it out lately.
We don’t know how Warne responded to this letter. However, having analysed the plotting, language and characters in Potter’s tales, it’s clear that she was more than just inspired by these folktales. Her tales owe a debt to the Brer Rabbit stories told by enslaved Africans working on American plantations that needs to be fully acknowledged.
Early encounters with Brer Rabbit
Potter knew Harris’s Brer Rabbit folktales as a child, having first encountered them in her father Rupert Potter’s library in their grand London home. Copies of the collections Songs and Sayings and its sequel Night with Uncle Remus were found at her farmhouse home in Sawrey in the Lake District after she died in 1943. Each bore her father’s bookplate.
These stories had not been published in the UK when Beatrix Potter was a child. It is therefore likely that her early contact with the Brer Rabbit tales (in comparison with the rest of the British public) was a result of her family roots in the cotton industry.
Her grandfather, Edmund Potter (1802–1883), was a Manchester cotton mill owner and industrialist. He became wealthy in the calico printing business, a cotton cloth originating from India.
Under the British East India Company (1600-1874), the cotton industry was an exploitative one. Cotton was grown by “peasant cultivators” in India who were heavily taxed. At the same time, the growth of demand in Britain and the development of British weaving techniques destroyed the traditional Indian cotton manufacturing industry .
In Manchester, Edmund Potter introduced precision machinery to his calico printing process. By 1883, his mill employed 350 workers – many of them children , according to Lear’s biography – and was the world’s largest calico printing factory.
A great portion of Edmund Potter’s wealth was passed on to Beatrix’s father, Rupert, a lawyer and photographer. He married a wealthy heiress, Helen Leech, whose family had also made a fortune in Manchester’s cotton industry by owning several cotton-spinning mills. By the early 19th century, the raw cotton used in these mills was sourced from the Americas, including from the Sea Islands region and Charleston in South Carolina .
This was the time of Manchester’s emergence as the world’s “ cotton capital ”. The city’s economic success was deeply connected to the enslavement of African people. Its industry predominantly involved the production of cloth made from raw cotton that had been picked by enslaved people on plantations in the Caribbean and US.
Many of the dyes such as logwood used in the printing of cotton were also imported from places such as Belize (known then as British Honduras) in the British Caribbean, and would have been harvested by enslaved people .
So, was it the Potter family’s connections with the cotton industry, the US, and the slave trade that brought a plantation Brer Rabbit into the Potter household?
How Potter fell in love with the Uncle Remus stories
As noted in my book, American Trickster: Trauma, Tradition, and Brer Rabbit , there are only two detailed pieces of research connecting Potter’s tales with Harris’s earlier folktales.
The first is children’s author John Goldthwaite’s 1996 book, The Natural History of Make-Believe . This was used as a key source in the other important contribution, literary critic Peter Hollindale’s (unpublished) lecture Uncle Remus and Peter Rabbit, delivered in 2003 at the Beatrix Potter Society’s annual general meeting.
I found the title of Hollindale’s lecture on the society’s website and wrote to ask if he would share its contents. His wife typed up the lecture from his handwritten notes, and I am grateful for their assistance with my research.
From her earliest creative forays, the influence of Brer Rabbit on Potter was evident in her work. In 1893, when establishing herself as an illustrator for her writing, she did the first of eight Uncle Remus drawings – presumably having been inspired by A.B. Frost’s illustrations in Harris’s books. More followed in 1895 and 1896 .
Potter illustrated Harris’s tales for fun, it seems, and to stretch her artistic talent. She was not commissioned to do so, and there’s no indication that Harris was aware of her drawings or ever saw them.
There are, however, clear resemblances between Potter’s Uncle Remus illustrations and those in her tales of Peter Rabbit. For example, her illustration of Brer pretending to be Mr Billy Malone in the Remus tale In Some Lady’s Garden is very similar to her drawing of Peter and Benjamin in The Tale of Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny, with both rabbits wearing fitted jackets and hats in an English country garden.
There are also similarities in her illustration of the Remus tale Brother Rescues Brother Terrapin with those she did of the fox character, Mr Tod, and the interior of his home for The Tale of Mr Tod.
Potter never publicly admitted the source of any inspiration for her drawings, plotlines or protagonists. But in his lecture, Hollindale argued that she “misunderstood her own talent and, to the end of her life, was afraid of being caught out as a cheat”.
Indeed, in a diary entry in 1883, Potter wrote as if plagiarism were a viral illness
It’s a risky thing to copy. Shall I catch it?
The African roots of the Peter Rabbit tales
The Brer Rabbit folklore character originated from the hare trickster figure of the Bantu-speaking peoples of south, central and east Africa. We know the origins of the tales through careful comparisons of plot, structure, language and characters in the stories. Brer was brought to the Americas by enslaved people and became a well-known folk figure across the French-speaking Caribbean and US.
In the Francophone Caribbean and American states, in particular Louisiana, the African hare was called Compère Lapin (Brother Rabbit), while in the English-speaking US he was known as Brer Rabbit .
This cunning trickster was known for outwitting his often more powerful animal adversaries using brains rather than brawn. The tales came to embody the tactics of resistance that enslaved people implemented to survive the brutality of plantation life. Harris adapted them while living on the Turnwold cotton plantation in the southern US state of Georgia in the late 19th century. He would spend his evenings in the quarters of the enslaved workers, listening to them share these stories .
Harris’s fictional narrator, Uncle Remus, was a formerly enslaved old man who was content with plantation life and for whom everything was “satisfactory”. Remus was based on, and propagated, a racist, minstrel-style stereotype that was deeply embedded into white American culture and consciousness.
Harris’s versions of the Brer Rabbit tales were sanitised to entertain white readers. The violence and injustice at the heart of both plantation life and the traditional folktales were tempered. Instead, Harris’s stories offered a more benign view of slavery.
Following on from the US’s emancipation proclamation of 1863, Harris’s portrayal of Uncle Remus, the “happy slave”, fed a white American nostalgia for its plantation past as a time when everybody knew their place. In this fantasy, unruly or child-like enslaved people were guided and cared for by benevolent white masters.
In an angry 1981 essay, Uncle Remus, No Friend of Mine , the African American author Alice Walker accused Harris of stealing part of her heritage and making her “feel ashamed of it”. Walker described feeling “separated from [her] own culture by an invention”, adding:
Even our folklore has been ridiculed and tampered with. And this is very serious, because folklore is at the heart of self-expression, and therefore at the heart of self-acceptance.
Poaching plantation stories
One of the key elements that Harris preserved in his retellings of the oral plantation folktales was the African American vernacular. And some of these turns of phrases and ways of speaking found their way directly into Potter’s stories.
Terms like “rabbit tobacco”, “puddle-duck”, “lickety-split” and “cottontail” are not English at all, but have been lifted from the African American vernacular she learned and enjoyed in the Remus tales.
And when writing about the success ) of her tales, Potter referenced a “mischievous” enslaved character, Topsy, from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s plantation novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin:
I have never quite understood the secret of Peter’s perennial charm. Perhaps it is because he and his friends keep on their way, busily absorbed with their own doings. They were always independent. Like Topsy, they just “grow’d”.
There are also numerous similarities in the plots of Harris’s and Potter’s tales. In Some Lady’s Garden (1883), for example, Brer Rabbit tricks Miss Janey into letting him into her father’s vegetable garden to steal English peas, sparrow grass (asparagus) and goobers’(peanuts) by pretending to be a friend of her father, Mr Man, from the big white (master’s) house.
This plot is the main storyline in most of Potter’s tales and is directly linked to the need for enslaved people to steal food from their masters to survive . In the most famous of Potter’s tales, Peter Rabbit repeatedly tries to steal vegetables from Mr McGregor’s garden.
But her Tale of Mr Tod is the one most clearly based on Harris’s narratives. Its plot centres on overcoming neighbourhood bullies, the badger Tommy Brock and the fox Mr Tod. In her biography of Potter, Lear explains that she copied the tale out from Uncle Remus, then changed the setting to the Lake District’s Sawrey countryside.
In his book, Goldthwaite traces the close connections between this tale and Harris’s Brother Rabbit Rescues Brother Terrapin (1883), which features a kidnapping, rescue and fight. Mr Tod follows a very similar narrative arc and, in some sections, exactly the same action plays out – for instance, a fight in the kitchen featuring crashing furniture.
For the average British reader, the vernacular in Harris’s tales would have been challenging to understand, and perhaps Potter’s knack for translation helped her cover her tracks. Take that kitchen fight. Harris’s story reads:
Dey year de cheers a-fallin’, en de table turnin’ over, en de crock’ry breakin’, en den de do’ flew’d open, en out come Brer Fox, a-squallin’ lak de Ole Boy wuz atter ‘im. [They hear the chairs falling, and the tables turning over, and the crockery breaking, and then the door flew open, and out comes Brer Fox, squalling like the Old Boy was after him.]
Compare this with Potter’s tale:
There was a terrific battle all over the kitchen […] Everything was upset except the kitchen table. […] The crockery was smashed to atoms. […] The chairs were broken. […]
The environment Potter creates in her tales shares similarities to that of a plantation – a dangerous world where the fight for food and survival is paramount. Despite the backdrop of gentle Lake District landscapes and an English cottage garden, her tales are set in a context of merciless repercussions for those who don’t have the wits to avoid capture – including Peter Rabbit’s father, who we discover has been baked in a pie.
In a 2006 article entitled The Ugly Truth of Peter Rabbit , journalist Stuart Jeffries asked: “Should we be celebrating this creator of a dark, sadistic, bloodthirsty world?” He argued that Potter’s stories are a bad influence on children, but did not mention that the stories are drawn straight out of an American slave plantation environment.
‘Pretence of absolute originality’
Potter’s use of the Brer Rabbit stories as the basis of her tales is not the main issue here. This is the traditional way that folktales travel across cultures and geographies. As Goldthwaite puts it, Harris’s series was the “base camp” from which Potter could work.
However, the steps Potter took to steer readers away from her sources are problematic. She appears to have been keen to claim the stories as her own, while ensuring that readers didn’t make the connection between Peter Rabbit and the stories narrated by Uncle Remus. Potter used the introductions to some of her tales to emphasise her authorship, using phrases such as “I remember” and “I can tell you” as if taking the place of Harris’s fictional narrator.
In the introduction to The Tale of Mr Tod, the darker sequel to The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Potter writes:
I have made many books about well-behaved people. Now, for a change, I’m going to make a story about two disagreeable people, called Tommy Brock and Mr Tod.
In his book, Goldthwaite writes of Potter’s “deception”, suggesting that those of Potter’s tales that were the most heavily indebted to Harris’s stories open with “pretence of absolute originality”:
Once satisfied that her translation from Uncle Remus has “grow’d” sufficiently, Potter stamps it officially as hers in the first person singular … What these introductions imply is that fresh work is being undertaken here, and that is the deception.
Goldthwaite adds that Potter’s “fear of being exposed as copyist would lead to a lifelong silence about Uncle Remus”.
It seems that the only references Potter herself made to her stories being drawn from Harris’s Brer Rabbit tales were in that single journal entry and letter. In his lecture to the Beatrix Potter Society, Hollindale commented on the oddity of this omission:
Strange, isn’t it, when you think that Black Rabbit, as in Mr Tod, is a glance at Brer Rabbit, and Cottontail is an Uncle Remus name, and an animal running “lippity lippity” first does so in Uncle Remus, and rabbit tobacco […] comes from there, not to mention some important elements of plotting? But [Potter] didn’t say much [about this].
At the same time, however, she did embed little clues regarding her Uncle Remus sources, making reference to “a fox coming up the plantation” in The Tale of Mr Tod, for example. In Goldthwaite’s view, these hints could be interpreted as a “careless shoplifter who secretly wants to get caught”.
I suspect Potter struggled to steer her work away from Harris’s tales. They absorbed her, they were central to her work in every way, and she enjoyed them. Rather than “clues”, these may be slippages – moments when Potter forgot to recast the story in her Lake District setting and slipped back into the world of Brer Rabbit.
At the same time, Potter expressed some strong ideas about other copycats – once accusing the children’s writer and illustrator Ernest Aris of plagiarism . At first she was, according to Lear’s biography, “strangely” defensive of Aris and his portrayal of a rabbit who happened to be named Peter. But later, Potter had a change of heart and wrote to him claiming his work had “no originality” and that “coincidence has a long arm, but there are limits to coincidences”.
This seems an ironic statement in light of Potter’s own silence around Brer Rabbit and the Uncle Remus tales.
Another famous Brer Rabbit fan
By their nature, stories constantly change to suit the needs of their audiences, and this is particularly the case with oral storytelling. Prior to Harris’s adaptations, the Brer Rabbit tales had already been remoulded to an American plantation environment by enslaved people from Africa. As such, there are no “authentic” versions of these folktales, which will continue to be told and adapted to new environments, moulded by the needs of the people that tell the tales.
Another British children’s author, Enid Blyton, also wrote versions of the Brer Rabbit stories , many of which were first published in magazines from the late 1930s onwards. Like Potter, Blyton understood the attractiveness of these folklore-based tales to British children – their delight in scams and tricking grown ups. However, Blyton acknowledged her sources.
Blyton began creating her Brer Rabbit stories in 1934 when she lived in Buckinghamshire. A big fan of Harris’s versions, she adapted them to a middle-class English country setting, further tempering the violence and adding some new characters, including her own beloved dogs and even unicorns. In all, Blyton wrote 338 Brer Rabbit tales as well as a play in 1939 and a cartoon strip.
In the introduction to her collection Heyo, Brer Rabbit: Tales of Brer Rabbit and His Friends Retold From the Original (1938), Blyton describes the spread of the trickster rabbit figure around the world under different names, but insists the most delightful is his incarnation as Brer Rabbit – folktales she attributes to “the American Negro’s Friend and Brother Creature”.
Blyton explains that Harris’s stories were told in “difficult negro vernacular”, so she set about the “delightful” task of retelling the stories in her own way while retaining the “raciness” of the original stories, claiming that “Brer Rabbit has always been my favourite character”.
Like Potter, Blyton includes many phrases from Harris’s African American vernacular in her stories, such as “bless gracious”, “lay low”, “lippity, clippity” and “a-going”. Blyton’s collection The Wonder Book for Children (1948) includes three stories entitled Brer Rabbit Tales by Enid Blyton After J.C. Harris. They are illustrated by the artist behind Harris’s later editions, Harry Rountree , with Brer Rabbit smoking a pipe or cigar.
Ending the silence and changing the narrative
Both Potter and Blyton, constrained by patriarchal power and middle-class social etiquette, may have revelled in fantasies of breaking through the social boundaries and rules that constrained most women to roles as wives and mothers during their lifetimes. Perhaps they found a sense of freedom in the Brer Rabbit stories and the trickster’s anarchic antics.
Goldthwaite argues that Potter was drawn to these folktales as they enabled her to resist and subvert her “domestic plight” as a young woman living with her father and having to adhere to strict Victorian patriarchal codes of conduct. In Brer Rabbit, he suggests that Potter found what she loved:
The sheer joy of wiliness, the world of the trickster and subversive mischief-maker.
Literary critics have argued that Potter’s tales are anti-imperialist or anti-capitalist , highlighting the problems of private property and the struggles of the dispossessed. It has also been said that Potter created a sexist world in which only men have adventures and can misbehave.
But above all, Peter Rabbit and the rest of Potter’s tales are viewed as quintessentially English stories about characters conjured from Potter’s brilliant mind and inspired by her life in rural England. Yet her tales are, at heart, folktales that originated in Africa before being adapted to expose and reflect the violence, resistance and survival tactics of the plantation life of enslaved people in the Americas.
While Potter, according to the letter and diary entry mentioned earlier, was, at least initially, anxious about imitating Harris, both Hollindale and Goldthwaite ultimately concluded that she felt needlessly guilty about her “borrowing” and “deception” tactics, obvious as they felt these were.
Both academics are clearly great admirers of Potter, who is considered a national treasure – not only for her tales but for her conservation work and the bequeathing of her extensive land and property to the National Trust . She has very few critics.
However, in my view, Hollindale and Goldthwaite miss the point in their conclusions. Potter’s actions in shielding the reading public from her sources have fed into a damaging and reoccurring appropriation of black cultural forms that continues today.
The Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit brands are highly lucrative. Yet I have found no references to the black American sources of these tales in any of the Beatrix Potter museums and experiences in the UK and US, which attract hundreds of thousands of visitors yearly. There is similarly no mention of these sources in any of the films of her tales, nor in the 2006 Hollywood biopic Miss Potter .
While Harris moved the stories out of the reach of many African Americans and created a damaging minstrel stereotype in Uncle Remus, he did at least credit enslaved black Americans as the storytellers – while describing himself as a “ humble compiler and transcriber ”).
In contrast, through Potter’s silence concerning her sources, the African American tales that helped create her stories are passed over without acknowledgement or celebration. Brer Rabbit must be firmly reasserted into our understanding and appreciation of Beatrix Potter’s tales. For far too long, they have been stealing from his briar patch.
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Get ready to ace your The Canterbury Tales paper with our suggested essay topics, helpful essays about historical and literary context, a sample A+ student essay, and more. Historical Context Essay: Pilgramages Literary Context Essay: Satire Central Idea Essay: Do religious leaders help or hurt society? Mini Essays A+ Student Essay: Courtly Love
The Canterbury Tales, frame story by Geoffrey Chaucer, written in Middle English in 1387-1400. The framing device for the collection of stories is a pilgrimage to the shrine of Thomas Becket in Canterbury, Kent. The 30 pilgrims who undertake the journey gather at the Tabard Inn in Southwark, across the Thames from London.
The Canterbury Tales is full of intrigue and sheds light on the life and times of the Middle Ages. These were times where hierarchy, feudalism, and chivalry were in effect. The tale is of twenty-nine individuals... The Canterbury Tales Book Review Literature Review Perfectly Written Custom Essays as Fast as You Need Them!
The Misogyny and Complexities within a Merchant's Tale Anonymous College. The Canterbury Tales. Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales is an anthology of tales told by characters within the greater work. While taking a pilgrimage, the characters within the anthology begin to competitively tell stories as a way to pass the time.
The Canterbury Tales is a poem written by Geoffrey Chaucer in 1392. In this poem each character tells four stories, two on the way there and two on the way home, to provide entertainment for the people on the pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral.
Analyze the Miller's story full of rude and dirty jokes. What is the core idea of the tale? How does The Miller's Tale reflect his personality? Provide appropriate quotes from the text to highlight Miller's arrogance. The uniqueness of Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Explore the distinctive features of the book.
The Canterbury Tales is a collection of short poems written by Geoffrey Chaucer in the fourteenth century. Chaucer presented the tales as a series of stories various characters told in a story-telling contest during a pilgrimage to the Cathedral at Canterbury.
The Canterbury Tales (written c. 1388-1400 CE) is a medieval literary work by the poet Geoffrey Chaucer (l. c. 1343-1400 CE) comprised of 24 tales related to a number of literary genres and touching on subjects ranging from fate to God 's will to love, marriage, pride, and death.
The Canterbury Tales is full of intrigue and sheds light on the life and times of the Middle Ages. These were times where hierarchy, feudalism, and chivalry were in effect. The tale is of twenty-nine individuals who set out on a pilgrimage and happen to chance upon each other by Tabard Inn.
The tales include romantic adventures, fabliaux, saint's biographies, animal fables, religious allegories and even a sermon, and range in tone from pious, moralistic tales to lewd and vulgar sexual farces. More often than not, moreover, the specific tone of the tale is extremely difficult to firmly pin down.
The Canterbury Tales is written in the heroic couplet. It shows not only the poetic skills of Chaucer but also his descriptive and narrative skills respectively through character descriptions and narrations of each character.
The tales of Brer Rabbit can be traced back to pre-colonial Africa, from where they were transported to the plantations of America by enslaved people.The stories were first adapted for a white ...