When Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales, he had certain morals in mind. Chaucer usually dealt with one of the seven “deadly” sins as well. The humorous Miller’s Tale is no exception. The Story is about a carpenter who marries a young beautiful woman who is much younger than him. The moral of the story is revealed in the second paragraph, when Chaucer, through the voice of the miller, notes of the carpenter, “Being ignorant, he did not know of Cato’s advice that a man should marry a woman similar to him”. He goes on to say, “Men should wed their contemporaries, for youth and age are often at odds”.
Through his tale, Chaucer will demonstrate the truth in this moral. The carpenter is portrayed as a stupid fool to further reinforce the foolishness of marrying someone of a different age than oneself. The story will go on to show that, “since he had fallen into the trap, he had to bear his burden like other people”. As I have stated previously, the young wife was beautiful to look upon. Although she was married to the carpenter, her beauty was not overlooked by the townspeople. In the story, she is lusted after by two other men. One of the men, named Nicholas, was a boarder in the carpenter’s house.
The other was a parish clerk at the church named Absalom. The lust is the key issue here. It is one of the seven deadly sins and the one dealt with in this story. The other men lust after the carpenter’s wife and it brings trouble. In keeping with the moral of similar age marrying similar age, the young and flirtatious wife decides to have an affair with Nicholas. This illustrates how foolish the old carpenter was to think he could keep tabs on a young beauty like his wife. So Nicholas comes up with a plan to trick the carpenter and allow him to sleep with his wife.
Nicholas tells the carpenter that a great flood is coming, and that to save his wife and himself (as well as Nicholas), he needed to prepare large tubs with supplies and stash them on the roof. Nicholas then proposed that the three of them get on the roof with their vessels on the night of the great flood so they could be saved. The carpenter prepared the tubs as Nicholas had suggested. On the night of the “flood”, the three of them get on the roof as planned. The Carpenter falls asleep, and then Nicholas and the carpenter’s wife sneak down into the bedroom and make love.
Later that night, Absalom comes to the window and tries to woo the carpenter’s wife by proclaiming his undying love for her. The carpenter’s wife tells him to go away, but he is relentless. Finally, she concedes to give him a “kiss”. She tells Nicholas to get ready to laugh and thrusts her ass out the window, and because it is dark, Absalom kisses that but realizes his mistake after he feels hair! Absalom is enraged, and he goes into town and borrows a hot colter from the blacksmith. Then he returns to The carpenter’s house and says that he has brought his love a ring.
Nicholas then sticks his ass out the window, expecting Absalom to kiss it, but Absalom smites him in the ass with the hot colter, burning the skin off of Nicholas’s buttocks. Then the commotion starts as Nicholas screams for water which wakes up the carpenter who fears the flood is coming and cuts loose the tubs which fall, along with him, to the ground from off the roof, which causes him to break his arm. The entire town laughs at the carpenter for his foolishness and his injuries, and Nicholas and the carpenter’s wife deny the flood story.
So, the lust of Nicholas is punished with the scorching of his ass, the foolhardiness of the carpenter is punished by his injury and his being ridiculed by the town, and the lust of Absalom is punished by his kissing of the ass. In this way the story shows the moral that if you marry within your relative age group, you will avoid the problems that befell the poor carpenter because the lustiness of other, younger people will not infiltrate your marriage as it did the carpenter’s in the miller’s tale.