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The General Prologue of the Canterbury Tales

The pilgrims assembled come from all sections of medieval life: the knight class (fighters), the priest class (prayer) and the working class. Before the trip begins, the pilgrim (Chaucer) talks to all of the pilgrims as a prologue to their tale later in the story. He describes in detail about each of them: their clothing, their manner of speech, their table manners. These descriptions give us a good external view of them, but only the exterior. We must learn to look past the externals. In each of the tales that are included, the tale matches the teller. He begins with the member in the group with the highest social standing, the knight, and the first of the tales that will be told. And he concludes with the parson, who will tell the last story. It is his story that leads the pilgrims to Canterbury. Good literature has two purposes: to entertain and to teach. The Canterbury Tales is tales within a tale. We are amused, shocked, provoked to thought, and moved by the tales. We are entertained. We are also taught virtue, humility, and the dark side of man. We are educated; we extract a kernel of knowledge from each story.

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