Feb. 4: The Miller’s Tale

John was pretty critical of Nicholas and of his studying astronomy. He even says at one point that “men sholde nat knowe of Goddes pryvetee” (346). However, John then goes on to fall for the trick that Nicholas pulls on him (all of which is based on Nicholas’ astronomical “discoveries”). Does John deserve what happens to him ultimately?

14 thoughts on “Feb. 4: The Miller’s Tale

  1. John was very possessive of Alison and tried to keep her away from other people because “she was wylde and yong, and he was old / And demed hymself been lik a cokewold.” (lines 3225-3226) However, I do not believe that he deserved what happened to him because she was his wife and was supposed to be loyal and faithful to him. Maybe he shouldn’t have married someone so young and immature compared to himself, but that doesn’t warrant being humiliated, heartbroken, and physically harmed. I believe that Alison was in the wrong in this situation, and that John was not (at least entirely) at fault. If he hadn’t been so jealous and possessive of her then maybe she wouldn’t have fallen in love with Nicholas, but if she had been true, pure of heart, and loyal to her husband, this never would have happened.

  2. John does not deserve what happened to him, as he was a loyal follower to both his wife and to God, although he was too ignorant to know otherwise. John is a good husband because “an housbonde shal nat been inquisityf / Of Goddes pryvetee nor of his wyf” (ll. 55-56). Chaucer, however, possibly characterized John as a social satire of blind religious followers, or “sheeple.” It’s stated that one “wol nat tellen Goddes pryvetee,” yet, when Nicholas informs John of the impending Biblical flood, John believes him because it’s the word of God. One shouldn’t question nor tell God’s will, so John’s a hypocrite in that he doesn’t question God’s will, but he believes when somebody tells God’s will. Moreover, John obviously seems to be a devoted, yet uninformed Christian with unconditional affection for God, but “lo, which a greet thyng is affeccioun! / Men may dyen of ymaginacioun” (ll. 503-4). John doesn’t necessarily deserve his fate, but it does result from his ignorance, particularly his religious ignorance.

  3. John does deserve his fate because of his complete lack of knowledge of what he claims to believe in. John is a Christian. He claims rather boldly “that noght but only his Bileve kan” (348), which basically means he subscribes exclusively to the Apostle’s Creed; the main tenants of Christianity. John claims to be a Christian, but his actions reveal that he does not truly believe what he claims to. When Nicholas warns him of the flood “that half so greet was nevere Noees Flood” (293), John should have told him that was impossible. After all, in the Christian Bible God makes it clear just after Noah’s Flood that he will never again flood the earth. Therefore, if John truly knew what he believed in, he could have responded with a quick rebuke of Nicholas’ preposterous notion. But John is ignorant of even the tenants of his own faith. Therefore, I think John deserves what happens to him. If he is going to claim so boldly that he is a Christian and not even know what he really believes in, he should be punished and his fate is well deserved.

  4. In a circular fashion, John is responsible for his fate. However, this doesn’t mean he was a bad person. When the Miller’s Tale introduces Alison, it says, “This carpenter hadde wedded newe a wyf / Which that he loved moore than his lyf.” (113-114). He deeply loves this woman more than his own life. John is a caring man who holds Alison above anything else in the world, including his religion. It’s because of this that he feels self conscious, fearing that she, a “yong and wylde” woman (117), will turn her attentions to someone younger or prettier than he, leading him to become jealous and to “heeld hire narwe in cage” (116). She acts out against him and gets with Nicholas because of the little freedom he gave her in their relationship, which makes John at least partially at fault for not respecting her (the rest of the fault is on Alison for being unfaithful in the first place), even if it was his love for her that governed his actions.

  5. John does deserve his fate, and the text seems to serve as a subtle jab at the Church. John points to astronomy as Nicolas’s weakness. The text reads, “This man [John] is falle with his astronomye / In som woodnesse or in som agonye” (p.292, 343-344). He says that Nicolas has “fallen” because of his interest in the astronomical sciences. In fact, John seems very anti-science. He says, “An housbonde shal nat been inquisityf / Of Goddes pryvetee nor of his wyf. / So he may fynde Goddes foyson there, / Of the remenant nedeth nat enquere!” (p.287, 55-58). People should only listen to God because that is where truth is. Others have brought up part of this quote, but the final two lines are key. John clearly states that someone should not go looking for answers from anywhere other than God. In having Nicolas outsmart John, especially in a way that required his scientific knowledge, Chaucer is criticizing this way of thinking that limits how people gain knowledge.

  6. I do not think John deserves what happens to him at all, despite the fact that he is overly protective and controlling with Alison. He cannot help but be this way since he is older and she is young and “moore blisful on to see/ Than is the newe perejonette tree” (289) and liked by many young men in the area. Although clearly gullible as well, his believing Nicholas also stemmed from his want to protect Alison. I think Nicholas rightly got branded as bad karma for what happened, but John did not technically do anything wrong– he isn’t a scholar so naturally he would be more apt to believe an outlandish claim from one– and just did what he thought was necessary for protecting his family, and now he is forever branded as crazy, which seems unfair given the actual circumstances and Nicholas’s involvement.

  7. I would agree with the posts about how Chaucer is criticizing religious ignorance in his portrayal of John. John is clearly presented as inferior to Nicholas, the clever, more intelligent one. Not only does Nicholas outsmart/trick John, but he also steals his woman and makes him a laughing stock of society. John probably doesn’t deserve this, but the point of the tale is that he brought this fate upon himself. Ironically it is Absolon, the parish clerk, who ends up kissing an ass and getting a fart to the face in pursuit of Alisoun’s love. These events seem to continue the mockery of religion.

  8. No, John does not deserve what happens to him. While his discouraging of Nicholas’s passion for astronomy seems cruel, it was not customary in his day for people’s profession to be chosen based on their interests. The misfortune that befell John was due to Nicholas’s lust for his own wife, who John had, admittedly, not been the best husband to. He was haunted by jealousy and fear that she would cheat on him. However, Alison proves that John’s fears were legitimate when she sleeps with Nicholas. He was tricked into believing their was a big flood coming by Nicholas. His belief in what Nicholas tells him shows that he has some respect for Nicholas and the science that he is so passionate about. He is not deserving of being viewed as ignorant and having “every wight gan laughed of this stryf” (742). John was certainly flawed, but he was not crazy and his actions did not warrant a scorning of his character for the whole town to see.

  9. John does not necessarily “deserve” his fate, but he does cause his own humiliation. He himself says that astronomy is not reliable, yet immediately believes what Nicholas tells him. This is foolish for two reasons. The first, as previously mentioned, is that God promises Noah that he will not send another great flood. As a good Christian man, he should have made that connection and known that something was off. The second thing that should have sent up a red flag is that Nicholas claims that he got the message through astrology, which John previously disparaged as worthless. If John believed that astrology is worthless, he should not have believed Nicholas. With all of that said, John was a decent person and did not really deserve to be scorned. However, he did bring it upon himself with his own foolishness.

  10. As others have said, I too do not believe John was not deserving responsible for his eventual fate although his foolish actions did lead to the prank in the first place. John cares for Allison more than anything, as evidenced by lines 35-36: “This carpenter has wedded newe a wyf/Which that he lovede more than his lyfe” and often this wise character turned into a fool by love is an archetype seen throughout literature’s history. For this reason, John was so set on protecting Allison that he was not thinking rationally. Nicholas and Allison were acting out of their own lust and in turn, harmed John for life. He will never be taken credibly again since Nicholas and Allison told the town James was “wood,” or crazy. He did not deserve that fate.

  11. As the others above me have said, John truly loved Alison so he did not deserved to be tricked by Nicholas and Allison. As far as John being critical of Nicholas and saying “He shal be rated of his studiyng” and “Men sholde nat knowe of Goddes pryvetee,” I think these were common beliefs of the time, and John being a religious man, he was just sticking to his religious beliefs (3463,3454). John also says “That noght but oonly his bileve kan!” – this also applies to him, however (3456). John knows his own beliefs, and he believes that studying astronomy is wrong, which is why he was so critical of Nicholas.

  12. As previously stated I believe John possesses all of the imagined ignorance of a medieval peasant. I do not necessarily believe he deserved this as it is clear he truly loved his wife, but I think Chaucer not only uses his folly to progress the story but also to examine the institution of marriage as it may fit the non aristocratic society. It is clear that Nicholay satisfies all that a maiden of Alisoun’s beauty could ever need in life. Let their love prove to be the revealing truth in Medeival Europe that the common people are capable of just as much trickery, deception, and kinkiness as any high born noble. In the Miller’s Table, Chaucer is able to critically analyze what it means to be a good citizen of your lord. The only character of considerable position is that of Absolon who from his introduction lusts nothing more than carnal pleasure and acts vey ignobly in order to ascertain Alisoun’s favor. In Nicholas’ case at least he is able to establish a peer relationship with his to be lover and make her find reason to break her vows. In the end no, I do not think John deserved such public torment for a trick he is to our knowledge still unaware of, yet I have sympathy for anyone who’s partner is unfaithful to them. But the again, Hugh Hefner know his bunnies are going to have their fun, John is truly a fool if he thought his craft alone could satisfy the flowing energy ball that is the dame Alisoun.

  13. As other have previously stated, I also do not think that John deserved what happen to him. The only negative traits he possesses is that he was controlling and overly protective of his wife. John also acknowledged that he knew that being with her was a risk “for youthe and ede is often at debaat” (3230). Despite these barriers against this marriage, I do truly believe that John loved his wife and was constantly afraid that Alison would cheat on him, which accounts for his behavior. It was by his own foolish accounts that he fell for the trickery that Nicholas placed upon him. John however was so critical of Nicholas studying astrology but yet is quick to convey complete trust in his knowledge of flood, despite his own Christian teachings. In all I do not believe that John deserved his fate but it was his own foolishness that created this entire situation.

  14. Although John’s humiliation stems in part from his own actions, he does not deserve to be ridiculed for the rest of his life. When he married Alison, noted as “wylde and yong,” he knew that it was a bad choice, as people are meant to marry their equal (line 3225). Their age difference puts them at odds, despite how much he loves her. Alison, however, meets her own equal in “hende Nicholas,” who is just as clever and mischievous as she is (line 3199). Both are trickster figures, and putting them together only allows their playful natures to bounce off of each other and escalate. When tricksters get together, everyone suffers, regardless of if they deserve it or not. Because John is Alison’s husband (and is not the smartest of men) he gets caught in the crossfire of Nicholas and Alison’s tricks.

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