My presentation is based an article titled The Inhibited and the Uninhibited: Ironic Structure in the Miller's Tale it s written by Earle Birney. The literary theme that Birney is discussing in his essay is structural irony. Structural irony is basically a series of ironic events and instances that finally build up to create a climax. The events and the climax the Birney chooses to focus his essay on are the events that lead towards the end when almost each character suffers an ironic event:
Absolon: kisses Alisoun's backside
Nicholas: gets his backside burned
John: falls from the tub and breaks his arm
Ironic events and play on words were used to lead to this ironic climax.
Birney writes that the description of each character as sweet or using the word sweet to describe them on Chaucer's part is ironic.
Nicholas: sweet singer, sweet smelling of herbs all day ;
Being uninhibited. l. 97, l. 99., l. 107 Birney p. 76 middle
Alisoun: naturally sweet as well as Nicholas, her mouth is described as sweet. l. 153 Birney p. 78 top.
Absolon: is a contrast, he is artificially sweet, he chews spices an herbs to try to be sweet. Birney p. 79 lower.
These three descriptions are the first things in Birney's article that are beginning the ironic structure that Chaucer has carefully built.
Next, Birney examines the irony between the rivalry of Nicholas and Absolon in order to gain Alisoun's kiss, affection, or to have an affair with her.
Nicholas: has no rivals in a way he just becomes forceful and persistant he offers himself in an aggressive manner and he gains her permission to do what he pleases to her body. l. 165-186, Birney p. 78 (before the quote).
Absolon: approaches her by going to her window at night and serenading her mind you he does not have a sweet voice (sqeaky, feminine) his approach is the most pathetic and apologetic
Then he tries to woo her by giving her gifts such as waffles and sweet wine Birney argues that he should not have tried to give sweet gifts to someone who is naturally sweet. l. 245- 259, l. 270 - 272, Birney p. 79 lower -80 top ; 80 middle.
Third Event: The Climax
Finnaly, the third event has been unraveled and anticipated, through
The two first events. The greatly anticipated climax begins to unravel.
Absolon: kisses Alisoun's rear end and the vengefully burns Nicholas instead of Alisoun (he dosen't really care). Birney p. 80 lower
Nicholas: gets his rear burned and runs around yelling water! Water! (the only time that the mention of John the carpenter husband is important when he too receives his climax he breaks his arm by falling out of the tub). Birney p, 81 middle
Alisoun: is basically the only one that escapes this fiasco with no punshment or repercussion on her. Birney is trying to prove that she escapes unscathed because of her lukewarm personality. She was neither uninhibited or anal cumpulsive. And she knew when to have an affair or play a cruel joke on someone. Birney 81 last lines.