How have the contexts of each composer influenced the ways in which women have been represented as 'behaving badly' in Chaucer's "Wife of Bath Prologue" and F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby"?

Essay by jarrahHigh School, 11th grade June 2007

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Both Chaucer’s Wife of Bath Prologue and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby show how women are conditioned by the values and attitudes of the patriarchal society. The texts explore how women are controlled and disciplined through social ideals of the feminine roles of motherhood, domesticity and virginity. Women not adhering to these roles and ideals are labelled as “behaving badly”. Women have and continue to resist such dominant forces because they desire agency for self-deterimination and sovereignity.

Chaucer's Wife of Bath's Prologue shows how patriarchal society suppresses the self-deterimination and freedom of women through labelling behaviour challenging male authority and dominance as inappropriate. The Wife of Bath's fifth husband reads "a womman cast hir shame away Whan she cast of hir smok," metaphorically symbolising the social attitude towards female sexuality and sexual promiscuity. This attitude is extended by “Thou seyst also, that if we make us gay With clothyng and with precious array, That it is peril of oure chastitee”.

The vague generalised use of 'Thou' suggests that the subject represents the patriarchal society and that the Wife of Bath is questioning the link between extravagant clothing or self-expression and moral purity. The suppression of women is not only restricted to fear of being seen as immoral, but also through guilt and responsibility for 'original sin'. “Lo, heere expres of womman may ye fynde, That womman was the los of al mankynde,” portrays female sexual freedom and self-determination as the 'ruin of mankind'.

F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby explores the result of this patriarchal society and the effect of forced ideals on women. Daisy represents the creation of a culture expecting women to be quiet, submissive and in search of a man to support them. Daisy presents a commentary on society's attitude to women through “I hope she'll...