This paper discusses the use of similes by Geoffrey Chaucer in The Canterbury Tales. It focuses on the explanation of a simile as a figure of speech and later examines the functions of selected similes in two different contexts. First, the function of one simile in the context of “The Reeve’s Tale” is discussed. Next, the function of one simile in “The Miller’s Tale” is discussed within the context of the piece.
To identify a simile in a given text, analyze its function and relation to the overall context, the explanation of a simile needs to be provided. Simile is explained to be a “figure of speech involving a comparison between two unlike entities” (Encyclopedia Britannica, “Simile”). Unlike the metaphor, the simile indicates resemblance by the use of the words “as” and “like”. Similes are used for explicit comparisons while metaphors, which employ “is” rather than “as”, act as implicit comparisons. Used both in prose and poetry, similes help readers to imaginatively hear, see, touch, taste, and feel things. They make the act of reading more vivid. Overall, they give additional force, intensified feeling, more life, and generally greater emphasis on what readers are reading (Crain 26).
In “The Reeve’s Tale”, the very first simile that was used by the author is the one that refers to the miller: “as any peacock he was proud and gay” (Line 72). This simile compares the miller, the main character of the tale, with a peacock. The simile appears in the first lines of the poem, when the hero is only being introduced to the reader. It is one part of a broader description of the miller by the author, e.g. other descriptive details are the miller’s ability to mend nets, play the flute, wrestle, etc.
The simile’s concept is based on comparison of the miller, a human being with a peacock, a peafowl that has a beautiful fanlike tail with lots of eyelike spots on it. It is generally believed that peacock symbolizes boastfulness and pride. For example, the figurative meaning of peacock as fixed in the Webster’s Dictionary is of a vain and self-conscious person. Similarly “to peacock” means to vainly exhibit oneself. An important thing to note is that peacock is a word to refer to a male peafowl. The use of the word gay with reference to peacock is probably based on the miller’s character: he seems to do whatever he wants without caring too much of what other people will think of his behavior. The simile’s function in the story is to create the image of the miller with greater force and emphasize his vanity. It serves to help the reader feel a sharp contrast with the miller’s eventual failure: the students got away having molested his daughter, slept with his wife, and not paid for the lodging.
In “The Miller’s Tale”, one of the similes used by the author is “as weasel’s was her body slim and small” (Line 126). The simile appears at the beginning of the story, when the narrator introduces and describes the wife of a miller. The meaning of the simile is to provide comparison of the miller’s wife body with that of a mammal weasel. Weasels have long and slender bodies, short legs, brownish fur, and elongated necks. The function of the simile in the story is to help reader visualize the body of the young woman as something very beautiful and sexually attractive. The whole plot revolves around the sexual affair between the miller’s wife and Nicholas, a poor scholar who rented a room in his house. It also tells about the sexual obsession of Absolon with the miller’s wife. Therefore, it is important to indicate at the beginning the cause of the passion in these men: the sexual beauty of the miller’s wife. On the other hand, based on the figurative meaning of the word “weasel” one may guess that the narrator used it to show the treacherous, cunning, and sneaky nature of Alisoun, who leaves her husband a cuckold. Thus, the simile foreshadows the further events in the story.
In summary, the two similes discussed in the paper help the reader to visualize the characters in the stories. They create a dramatic effect and even serve to foreshadow the future events in the story.