Geoffrey Chaucer’s use of the device of pilgrimage in “The Canterbury Tales” is multifaceted and central to the structure and themes of the work. Here are some of the key ways in which Chaucer employs this device:
Framework for Storytelling: The pilgrimage provides a structural framework that allows a diverse group of characters to come together. Each pilgrim is on a journey to Canterbury to visit the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket. This setting gives Chaucer an opportunity to assemble characters from various walks of life, each with their own story to tell.
Social Commentary: The pilgrimage setting allows Chaucer to offer a commentary on the society of his time. By bringing together characters from different social classes and professions, he is able to explore and critique the social norms, practices, and institutions of medieval England.
Character Development and Interaction: The pilgrimage serves as a backdrop for character development and interaction. As the pilgrims travel and tell their stories, their personalities, beliefs, and values are revealed. This interaction also leads to dynamics like competition, camaraderie, and conflict among the pilgrims.
Religious and Moral Themes: The act of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages was inherently religious, often undertaken as a form of penance or spiritual seeking. Chaucer uses this context to explore themes of religion, morality, and the human quest for meaning and redemption.
Variety in Storytelling: The pilgrimage framework allows Chaucer to introduce a wide variety of stories, ranging from the bawdy and humorous to the morally instructive and serious. This diversity reflects the complexity of human experience and the richness of the literary tradition.
Reflection of Real Pilgrimage Practices: Chaucer’s depiction of the pilgrimage mirrors real practices of the time, providing historical insight into the nature of religious journeys in the medieval period. It shows how such journeys were not just spiritual but also social events.
Symbolism and Allegory: The journey to Canterbury can be seen as a metaphor for life’s journey, with each pilgrim representing different aspects of human nature. The stories they tell can also be interpreted allegorically, offering deeper moral or spiritual meanings.
In summary, Chaucer’s use of the pilgrimage in “The Canterbury Tales” is a masterful literary device that serves to organize the narrative, develop a diverse cast of characters, provide social commentary, and explore a range of themes and ideas relevant to his time and beyond.