Chaucer and his many characters depict of an epic party of unique characters, all with their own defining characteristics and personalities which draws upon the thoughts and views Chaucer has of world around him. In our time and even in his own, Chaucer is recognized for his objective reasoning and viewpoints of his time period. In Canterbury Tales, Chaucer displays symbols of realism through the corruption of the church, the idealistic expectations people had of a virtuous denizen, and portrays voices Chaucer realizes were for the most part unheard.
In the party, there were many religious characters that took their place among the group. However, Chaucer implicates that though these characters represent a strong class of moral righteousness, in reality they are far less moral than they were ideally supposed to be. One such character that defines this is the Pardoner. In the prologue, he is described as a greedy man, one who takes advantage of his vocation to target the rich pockets of those who wish to ease their hearts of their committed sins. This is drawn from Chaucers realization that the church had used indulgences, paid money by people who had the intention of buying away their sins, to gain profit and luxuries. The deceit of the story can also be seen through the Pardoners Tale. In his tale, the Pardoner warns against greed and its dangers. This is clearly against his own mental philosophy of targeting the rich for his personal gain. What his tale shows is that the Pardoner is deceitful, and what he preaches is not what he practices. The case of the Pardoner and his
tale is a strong representation of what the Church was like in reality, that it was self-serving though it claims to be for the good of people and the will of God. Another character was the Friar. In the prologue, it is repeatedly hinted that he was quite a womanizer, knowing of many lady friends and such, though friars were not to dally with sexual appeal. This was Chaucers declaration of the unholiness of the friars of the church, which was a well-known and common problem of the time that most people were afraid to voice.
Chaucer also hits off of an idealistic figure that society viewed as perfect. In his character, the Knight, he collected all virtues into a single person. The Knight was strong, just, protective, courteous, modest, and chivalrous. Through the Knight, Chaucer offers an example for all to follow. Knights in Chaucers time were soldiers who followed their kings loyally and fought for them without question. This exemplary figure was Chaucers ideal man. Also, two other characters portray a very noble personality. The Parson and his brother the Plowman are both not of high standards yet they possess virtues that the upper class seem to be missing out on. Though they are both poor, Chaucer recognizes that they are hardworking and honest men.
In Canterbury Tales, Chaucer also gave voice to two groups of people that the rest of society practically ignored, the women and the middle class. Representing the women are the Wife of Bath and the Prioress. The Wife of Bath has been around, jumping from marriage to marriage. She is not the typical image that was usually attached to women of that time period. She wears gaudy jewelry, practices marriage and sex, and is very shockingly not committed to her husbands at the time when she had them. In her speech before her tale, Chaucer allows her to ramble on about her viewpoint, one usually suppressed in his time. She tells of what she wants, and what she wants is certainly not to serve and please her spouse. Chaucer allows her to show that women have a world they desire, and through her tale he shows how women want respect, and if given respect women would be a much more valuable asset to marriage and society as a whole. The Prioress was a more stereotypical woman. She was dainty and polite, almost timid through description, yet Chaucer tells his audience that she was not dumb. She was educated, and this could be seen through her knowing French and having exquisite taste, though she was modest. The Prioress shows a lady can be proper yet well-educated at the same time, something most men probably did not believe in.
For the middle class, Chaucer did not necessarily give them a voice but did note their presence. In his time, the middle class was still emerging and not yet recognized as an economical force, yet Chaucer gave them image through people like the Carpenter, but he does not describe them in much detail. In Canterbury Tales, the party consists of many middle classmen, though they were not described. The large number of traveling middle classmen shows that they are powerful though their cryptic descriptions give off a foreshadowing effect.
Chaucer uses the Canterbury Tales to explore and take perspectives of his society, taking into account the many unsaid details that he noticed of the time period. His many stories give voice to those that normally do not have it. In his accounts Chaucer brings up the issue of the corruption within the church, the virtues and qualities of good citizens, and gives the microphone to the people that were never in the spotlight. His use of realism in the Canterbury Tales is part of what made him a popular author in his time, and why he continues to be an important part of British literature today.