The Canterbury Tales

Main Ideas

Point of View

Main Ideas Point of View

The Canterbury Tales uses the first-person point of view in the General Prologue and the frame narrative; Chaucer, the narrator, speaks from his own perspective on the events of the story contest and the pilgrims who tell the tales. While Chaucer does not appear to be a particularly unreliable narrator, he is an extremely critical one. As such, he emphasizes details about each pilgrim that expose the characters’ personalities—in particular their flaws—to satirize English society. For example, in the General Prologue, he stresses the wealth of the Monk—who is supposed to devote his life to religious work and prayer—as evidence of the Monk’s hypocrisy. The tales themselves use the third-person omniscient point of view, often with a “once-upon-a-time” beginning. These fairy tale openings suggest that the people in the stories are types, not detailed character studies. However, we know through the prologues that a specific character tells each story, making choices about what to include just as Chaucer does for the frame story. The tales therefore say more about the pilgrims telling the stories than they do about the characters included within them.