In the fourteen century, men were always the superior, head of the household, the breadwinner, but women were always inferior, they would stay at home, do the house work, cook, and never would have a job. Well, times have changed. Women are reaching an equal status to men in political, social and economic matters, it’s part of the idea called Feminism. In many ways, does the Wife of Bath, display many characteristic of women in the 21st century, who instead of being directed by men, she views herself as an independent person.
Throughout her introduction of the tale, and the story itself, we see the Wife of Bath as an experienced, intellectual woman, who despite in a world of patriarchal power, she provides for herself financially, emotionally, and physically. As a feminist icon, she confronts serious social issues, that illustrate the subjugation that women faced. During her prologue and her tale, it is very clear that the Wife of Bath is proud and not ashamed of her sexuality.
She views sex as a good ideal, and argues it, using references from the Bible, that God’s intentions were for humans to have sex and procreate, “God bade us to wax and multiply. ” (259) In response to the upholders of celibacy, she asks for a proof of a discouraging of marriage, “Show me a time where God disparages or sets a prohibition upon marriages. Expressly, let me have it! Show it to me! ” (260) She is not jealous of virginity, but believes that virginity is perfection and is not meant for everyone, “I’ll have no quarrel with virginity.
Let them be pure wheat loaves of maidenhead And led us wives be known for barley-bread. ” (262) The Wife of Bath’s reputation isn’t as valuable to her sex life and it is her intention to utilize her ‘instruments” meaning her female sex organs during marriage to do so. These features of poise in this realm weren’t generally associated with women in those times. Being sexually confident and assertive are largely feminist ideas. Women were supposed to be shy, inexperienced, and act unconcerned in sex. The Wife of Bath acts against all of those stereotypes.
She is not naive, she is “experience[d]”, she is not timid or uninterested, and she plans to use what God gave as much as possible because clearly she relishes sex. The second topic of large controversy in her introduction, that she challenges the hierarchy of marriage. The Wife of Bath believes that the husbands should be submissive to their women partner, and that the wife should have a sort of sovereignty over the men. An example of her expressing her standpoint on this issues is when she is theoretically speaking to a husband, “Come near, my spouse, come let me kiss your cheek!
You should be always patient, aye, and meek. ” (270) In this line, she is conveying, that men should be tolerant and passive towards their wives. This concept of switching the “controls” of the marriage to the female, is very apparent through her explanation of her fifth marriage to John. This over misogynistic and over powering man tries to make the Wife of Bath feel as pathetic as possible by reading the most sexist passages out of religious texts. After tearing out the pages from his Bible, he hits her, and she responds “I up at once and smote him on the check and said, “Take that to level up the score!.. (280), but they make a truce, “Secured myself [Wife of Bath] the sovereignty in wedlock. ” (280)
The wife made Johnny feel so guilty for hitting her that he gave her all of the control and refuses to lose that sense of power over the man. The Wife of Bath was living in a time period of very little choices available for women, but she used her option in order to achieve her desire, to be the one in control, or at least to balance the hierarchy, which is the ultimate feminist statement As the gender inequality in marriage has dissipated over the past decade, the Wife of Bath has also done so but using unorthodox but witty ways.
The last subject, which instead of addressed to the reader is presented in the Preface, is the violence of men towards women. During the Middle Ages, hitting, rapping, and in some cases killing was condoned, and wasn’t a crime. Throughout the Wife of Bath’s prologue, we see examples of one of her various husbands assaulting her. Especially with John, we see he had “Beaten me [Wife of Bath] in every bone” (272), “He [Johnny] struck me [Wife of Bath] still can ache along my row of ribs” (272) and “Smote me on the head” (279).
But when Johnny hit her, causing her to be deaf in one ear, she refu remain submissive any longer and she hit him back: “I up at once and Smote him on the cheek” (280). Her actions, though seemingly benign in this modern time, was far more significance then. So, despite not leaving lohn due to her limited options, that action, displayed her opposition to her husband’s aggression. Throughout the Wife of Bath’s tale, each of the three controversies that appeared in the prologue is also displayed throughout the tale.
The violence of men towards women is shown through the knight’s sexual assault of the maid, “And of the maiden, alone as she was born… By the very force he took her maidenhead” (282) but the perpetrator is punished, which isn’t usually the instance. Instead of the the king punishing the man, he lets his wife do it, “he gave the queen the case” (282) disrupting the more common hierarchy of the marriage, where the wife is submissive to the husband. This idea of gender equality was very common during the period of the Middle Ages, but the Wife of Bath shifts it, playing her own game, a fantasy.
The Wife of Bath confronts and discusses the truths of the social dysfunction and oppression towards women that were rarely addressed. As a female character who is trying, despite the many difficulties that lie in her path, to encourage woman’s right, and independence, sexually, socially and economically. When understood from the circumstances of the era that she was living in, with lack of opportunities and options for women, the Wife of Bath, is seen as a large icon on Feminism.