Nicholas as a social outsider in the Miller’s tale

Hi everyone, last year I wrote a paper about the character Nicholas in the Miller’s tale and how he is a social outsider mainly because he is merely a student that is between social classes and is never fully accepted or appreciated by anyone. In my paper I talk about the word “pryvetee” which roughly translates as secrets in the text, but can refer to the secrets kept between men and women within the public and private spheres of life as it pertains to their gender identity, sexuality and even religious beliefs. As a student, Nicholas is not as important in the eyes of the public as John the Carpenter, who owns his own home and has a paying job. However, Nicholas is able to breach John’s private life by catching the attention of Allisoun, and spends the tale taking advantage of her sexually and taking advantage of John mentally. While I understand that on the surface this tale was meant to be funny, filled with fart jokes and public humiliation, beyond the surface there are some really serious issues about how men and women live and work together within the home and from the outside. I took a more serious approach to the tale, noting that it seems Allisoun is just an object of desire for Nicholas, Absolon and even John, who feels that he controls or owns her. Since Nicholas is able to have free roam of John’s home while he is away at work, he is able to stop being a social outsider and force himself into John’s private life. I feel that Nicholas acts in a very malicious way, whether by taking advantage of Allisoun, humiliating Absolon or by using his intelligence and cleverness to trick John. As I’ve said, I wrote a whole paper about this tale, so I’ve given a lot of thought into the characters and their progression through the tale, so I’d love to hear outside opinions about the idea of “pryvetee” and if I’m possibly being too hard on Nicholas.

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2 thoughts on “Nicholas as a social outsider in the Miller’s tale

  1. I think you are correct in believing Nicholas is a malicious character. In the story I identified Nicholas as the worst character. I believe he is a man of high intelligence, compared to the rest of the cast, and he uses this to his advantage constantly. He lures Allisoun away from her marriage and tricks John, leading everyone to think that he is crazy. The only time his intelligence is put in check is when his ass gets burnt. However, even after that embarrassing moment, he still seems to come out on top. The dude is the worst.

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  2. “Nicholas’s desire to know the future is a form of hubris (pride): by desiring this knowledge he’s taking upon himself powers that should belong only to God. This trait coincides with Nicholas’s position as the tale’s “command giver”: in demanding Alisoun’s body and John’s obedience, he makes himself into a God figure” (http://www.shmoop.com/millers-tale/nicholas.html)

    I found this piece of analysis interesting and provides a new perspective on Nicholas; although this describes Nicholas as becoming a sort of God figure, this does not necessarily mean a God like the one up in heaven who is good and forgiving. Although Satan, the devil, what have you, is a fallen angel, he is considered the God of his realm, the underworld, the ruler of lost and fallen souls, do-er and perpetuator of evil – a “God figure”. He tempts Alisoun (if you recall she initially refuses his offer but then is convinced, however easily, to sleep with him).

    It is common in literature that the devil doesn’t win, that something ultimately rains on his parade. When Absolon burns Nicholas, this punishment by fire or burning is a parallel to the ultimate punishment Lucifer receives by burning in hell for eternity.

    Maybe, lol.

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