The Wife of Bath within one character is able to convey different views within society. The Wife of Bath believes in feminist views yet she conforms to the anti-feminist literary ideas of a Wife. The Wife is not a stereotype; Chaucer exploits all traditional things that men wrote about women and creates a woman who is bigger than all of them. Chaucer begins with Alison telling us that she is experienced in marriage, having had five husbands since the age of twelve. The Wife has a very businesslike attitude that suggests that she is also very capable of making a success in her trade as a cloth maker. The practical Alison shows her domesticity when she dismisses St Paul’s statement that married women are like wooden vessels whereas virgins are like golden ones. She states that she cannot see much use in a household for golden dishes when wooden ones do the same job.
“For wel ye knowe, a lord in his household, He nath nat every vessel al of gold; Somme been of tree, and doon hir lord servise.” (Line 99-101) We also hear Alison’s details of care for her clothes, so that no moths or mites have a chance to spoil them. “And wered upon my gaye scarlet gites And wostow why? For they were used weel.” (Line 559-62) Her businesslike attitude to her initial marriages is shown several times when the Wife refers to not allowing her husbands to touch her “bel chose” unless she was granted something in exchange, and she is furious when she is not allowed to have the keys to the money chest.
“Why hiestw, with sorwe, The keyes of thy cheste awey fro me? It is my good as wel as thyn, pardee!” (Line 308-310) She concludes by informing her misguided husband that he cannot be “maister of my body and my good.” The fact that Alison has been married and widowed so many times only to remarry implies that she was a ‘good catch’, for in the Middle Ages a wealthy widow was considered a desirable marriage partner for her money. Jankin certainly knew what he was doing by courting and marrying her, for her wealth.
Alison is a good observer of her own character – she certainly possesses a great deal of self-knowledge. She says she has two sides to her personality, drawing on her knowledge of astrology. People in the Middle Ages, including Chaucer, believed in planetary influences on character and appearance. The Wife’s passionate, sexual nature comes from Venus and her strong will from Mars. Her colouring comes from Mars (the ‘red’ planet), as does her birthmark, in a “privee place” indicating her sexual appetite, the effect of Venus. Alison is born under Taurus making her large, bold and flamboyant, with a ruddy face. Her gap-tooth is supposed to be a sign of someone with a lecherous nature, and the Wife is proud to admit to this, saying that it “bicam me weel”. It is the influence of the planets that make the Wife a passionate, feisty debater in defence of marriage and of wives.
Alison quotes varieties of sources to support what she says, including the Bible, ecclesiastical writings, from scholars and philosophers. Chaucer has allowed the Wife access to this knowledge by being married to an Oxford scholar. Wherever Alison’s knowledge comes from she still remains to make astonishingly controversial and provocative arguments about marriage and power in the time. Alison’s arguments are not necessarily Chaucer’s own because there are often flaws in her reasoning. The choice of a housewife as a major role in literature was something that hadn’t been done before Chaucer. The Wife is a natural talker. She is not too clever and not all her arguments are convincing. She jumps from one topic to the next. She uses techniques to fight against men, fast-talking, reversing argument, literal approach and undermining the enemy.