Wife Of Bath And Sei Shonagon: An Analysis

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From her candid confessions of her life to her rebuttal of medieval antifeminism, the Wife of Bath’s prologue looms larger than her tale. Named Alison and introduced as “a good wife”, a talented cloth-maker with a bold face and “scarlet red” stockings, the Wife of Bath is presented as a striking character with an unconventionally brazen attitude (Chaucer 447-460). Her crude portrayal, at first glance, may seem vastly dissonant from other women in literature, such as Japanese aristocrat Sei Shonagon. Shonagon’s journal, named The Pillow Book, reveals her appreciation for a delicate aesthetic, wittily discloses the progression of courtly life and most importantly maintains Shonagon’s persona as a woman of tact and stateliness. Nonetheless, both …show more content…
The Wife of Bath, Alison, uses examples such as “that wise astrologer, Don Ptolemy” or draws upon the rich medieval biblical tradition to argue that men like “Don Solomon” were not condemned by God for practicing bigamy (Chaucer 38,329). Alison, then, establishes two elements which help her build her strong narrative. She rationally quotes and cites traditional forms of knowledge that most men would have studied in the middle ages to critique an imbalance in society that most took for granted. Moreover, by building a clear and logical criticism of need for virginity in society, she performatively exposes that women can be rational people who can have their own individualist outlook. Shonagon also uses her narrative to display her own outlook when she addresses natural imbalances in her diary. Shonagon lists that “old age and youth”, “people you love and those you hate” and “the man you love and the same man once you’ve lost all feeling” are the “things that can’t be compared” (Shonagon, 68). Shonagon’s lists, may not draw on an intellectual tradition in her society, but, they still reveal that she is a deeply introspective woman who uses her reason to unmask the daily imbalances in her world. Her lists about things that can’t be compared, …show more content…
Just because these women develop their own arguments through intellectualism that might have been unconventional in their societies does not necessarily signify that they advocate for the same outlook. However, the way Shonagon and Alison structure their accounts reveal that they don’t place objections or simply express their opinions to just critique society. While their stories might be built on different objections or observations about the conventions in their societies, they both offer new knowledge about what standards society should uphold. Shonagon devotes entire sections to both critique an aspect of a society but, also to put forth a new solution to her criticism. This is especially evident in her anecdote about priests who she says “have to be handsome” in order to remember “what you’ve just heard” from him (Shonagon 30). The Wife of Bath follows her long descriptive prologue which criticizes the need for female virginity with a tale that is prescriptive to prove her point about what relations between a married man and a woman ought to look like. Since these women have more than just a one-dimensional criticism of their societies, then, their intellectual foundation allows them to argue for a new value system of an aesthetic of balance within their society. Therefore, it is the value system that they present that is united, even if their

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