What Significance Does the Natural World Hold in The Franklin’s Tale?
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Nature can be perceived as a fundamental theme in Chaucer’s writing during certain parts of The Franklin’s Tale. It can be conveyed as a positive or negative aspect of the characters surroundings.
Dorigen’s castle stands “faste by the see.” The sea is significant to Dorigen’s feelings in several different ways. The unpredictable and commanding reputation of the sea could represent Dorigen’s anger, motivated by Aviragus’ departure. The sea can be seen as a prison to Dorigen, stressing how secluded she feels from the rest of the world. Her castle is “upon the bank an heigh,” which emphasizes how far she is from Aviragus, as the sea can possibly be perceived as a link between her and him. The freedom of the water can be seen as an ironic contrast between Dorigen’s current emotional status and how she may have felt before Aviragus left.
Dorigen presents a description of the “reisly rokkes blake.” This description can be seen as hyperbolic as she spends an extensive amount of time describing them and questioning God about His placement of them. Again the rocks (as well as the sea) act as an objective correlative. Dorigen’s speech is very aggressive; she uses the consonance of the harsh “k” sound contrasted with the alliteration of the softer “r” sound to create a more dramatic effect. The rocks, as objects, can represent various different feelings Dorigen has. Obviously the feeling of anger, as already mentioned, is conveyed by the negative, evil words used to describe the rocks, such as, “reisly,” “blake” and “feendly”.
She may also feel that the rocks should not reside in the same place as her husband and that they are somehow jeopardizing his wellbeing. The relationship between herself and Aviragus could be shown by the rocks. Perhaps she feels that their relationship will wear away as the rocks are eroded by the ever-persistent sea. The rocks could also represent hidden and half-hidden dangers that separate Dorigen and her husband from one another. In short, the rocks function as a way of her, externalizing her trauma. Dorigen feels so strongly about the rocks that she boldly questions God about his “werk unresonable”. Here, the natural world acts as an excuse to vent her anger directly to God. Bizarrely this resilient hate Dorigen holds against the rocks could be seen as a way of praying, showing that her love for Aviragus is so strong that she feels the need to directly criticize God about his supposedly “unresonable” work.
Further on in the Tale, Dorigen states that to win her love Aurelius must “remoeve alle the rokkes, stoon by stoon”. Initially, Dorigen feels that if the rocks are removed Aviragus will be closer to her, as all of the half-hidden and hidden dangers will be demolished. An alternative reasoning behind what she says is that by removing the rocks she will feel free of how she feels about them. The rocks act as a link between her and her husband, perhaps she wants this link to be terminated so that she can feel free to do what she wants. In effect her usage of the rocks as an objective correlative has lead to her emotional imprisonment ‘within’ them.
The next major use of nature is the garden that Dorigen is persuaded to venture into with her friends. The garden is described by the narrator, not Dorigen. This change of viewpoint is significant because it is being described by one of Chaucer’s characters, not one of Chaucer’s character’s characters. Chaucer uses his characters to almost hide behind and give the impression that it is his characters and not him that express their views and feelings. Here Chaucer is talking through the Franklin, which brings the reader almost closer to Chaucer’s actual opinion. There is an instant change in vocabulary used to describe the garden. Softer sounds are used, such as the “s” and “o” sounds. The sibilance of certain words is effective in conveying the garden as a peaceful place, contrasting the harsher sounds of the words that were used when describing the rocks:
“That evere was born, but if to greet siknesse
Or to greet sorwe helde it in distresse”
The garden can represent a variety of different things. It is “craft of mannes hand”, therefore it is artificial, however, the “odour of floures” are natural. The beauty of the garden (leading to its comparison to “Paradys”) is very ironic. The garden is man made and the rocks are made by God. It is expected that the rocks would be described as beautiful instead of the garden, but this is not the case. Dorigen is in fact comforted more by the man made garden than by pure nature itself. The point of the garden is to make Dorigen feel better. It can be seen as a cover up for Dorigen’s strong feelings about the rocks. The garden is described as having whatever was necessary giving the impression that there plentiful stock of food and various other items. This could possibly show a contrast between Dorigen’s empty relationship and the rich stock of the garden.