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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Islam in Saudi Arabia and the History of Islam in Arabia

Saturday, August 27, 2011 - 1 Comment

Question: Discuss the religion Islam in Saudi Arabia, describe the history of Islam in Arabia.

Religion Islam in Arabia:
Islam is the country’s official religion. An estimated 89 percent of Saudis are Sunni Muslums, and about 5 percent are Shia Muslims (see Shia Islam). The government employs the Sharia (Islamic law) as a guiding principle of rule. Consequently, Islamic tenets not only govern spirituality and religious practice, but also guide practices of law, business, taxation, and government.
The form of Islam supported by the government is socially and theologically conservative. While Saudis and foreigners may behave as they wish behind closed doors, they must observe many strict religious requirements while in public. These include conservative dress for men and women, segregation of the sexes, mandatory daily prayers for Muslim men, and the closing of offices and business during the five daily prayer times. A government agency called the Committee to prevent Vice and Promote Virtue sends out official enforcers called mutawwa’ in to ensure observance of these rules. Punishments for transgressions can be summary and harsh, including public flogging.
Saudi Arabia’s conservative form of Islam is strongly influenced by a puritanical Islamic movement formed in the 18th century. This movement is often referred to by Westerners and other non-Saudis as Wahhabism, after its founder, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (see Wahhabis). However, the movement’s adherents have never referred to themselves as Wahhabis, and within Saudi Arabia, Wahhabi is often used by non-Saudis or reform-minded Saudis in reproach to refer to conservative Muslims. In modern-day Saudi Arabia, strong adherents of the movement may call themselves muwahhidun (Unitarians, from al-muwahhid, Arabic for “those who proclaim the unity of God”) or ahl al-tawhid ) people of unity.) Less strident followers – a significant portion of the population, including some members of the royal family – may simply say they are part of the harakat al-salafiyya, roughly translated as “the movement following the ways of the Prophet.”
The country’s Shia Muslims are concentrated around the oases of Al Hasa and Al Qatỉf in eastern Saudi Arabia. Strict muwahhidun do not recognize the Shias as true Muslims. Therefore, historically, Saudi authorities have subjected them to discrimination and oppression, arousing resentment and opposition to the regime among the Shias. Other religions are represented among the expatriate population. However, the government does not allow public practice of non-Islamic religions and prohibits missionary activity.

Geographical Conditions of Arabia the Advent of Islam

Question: What were the Geographical Conditions of Arabia at the advent of Islam?

Introduction: Saudi Arabia monarchy in south western Asia, occupying most of the Arabian Peninsula. Saudi Arabia is a land of vast deserts and little rainfall. Huge deposits of oil and natural gas lie beneath the country’s surface. Saudi Arabia was a relatively poor nation before the discover and exploitation of oil, but since the 1950s income from oil has made the country wealthy. The religion of Islam developed in the 7th by Abdul Aziz ibn Saud, and it has been ruled by his descendants ever since.
Saudi Arabia is bounded on the north by Jordan, Iraq, and Kuwait; on the east by the Persian Gulf and Qatar; on the south east by the United Arab Emirates and Oman; on the border with the United Arab Emirates is not precisely defined. Saudi Arabia has an area of about 2,240,000 sq km (about 864,900 sq mi). The capital and largest city is Riyadh.

Geography: The Arabian Peninsula is essentially a huge, tilted block of rock, highest in the west and sloping gradually down to the east. Most of this slab of rock is covered with the sand of several large deserts. Saudi Arabia’s landscape also contains mountain ranges, flat coastal plains, and the rocky remains of hardened lava flows. The country’s climate is hot and dry, and there are no permanent rivers or lakes. Saudi Arabia can be divided into four natural regions. These are the mountainous western highlands; the rocky central plateau; the more fertile, eastern low-lying coastal plain; and the sandy desert areas of the north, east, and south. A string of mountain ranges stretches along the western edge of Saudi Arabia. The northern segment of these highlands, known as Al Hijaz (Hejaz), has a general elevation of 600 to 9000 m (2,000 to 3,000 ft), with some mountains exceeding 2,000 m (6,500 ft). Rainfall here is infrequent, but streams flowing down the west side of the highlands allow limited agriculture in valleys and on the narrow coastal plain. On the fields of dark-coloured, broken basaltic stone known as harras. South of Al Hijaz the highlands continue into the region known as ‘Asir. Here, the highlands are rugged and reach considerably higher elevations than in Al Hijaz: Much of ‘Asir lies between 1,500 and 2,000 m (5,000 and 7,000 ft). The highest point in Saudi Arabia, Jabal Sawda’ (3,207 m 10,522 ft), is located in this region, near the border with Yemen. ‘Asir receives more rainfall than Al Hijaz, allowing more widespread farming.
Considerably more than half the area of Saudi Arabia is desert. Some desert areas are covered with shifting sand dunes, while others are more stable flat or rippled expanses of sand. Shaped and moved by winds, sand dunes take the form of long ridges or tall hills. Sand, gravel, or bare rock basins lie between the dunes. Few plants grow in these arid deserts, except in scattered oases supported by springs or wells. Three large deserts lie on three sides of the country’s central plateau: An Nafud to the north, the Rub’ al Khali to the south, and the narrow Ad Dahna’ connecting these two on the east. The Rub’ al Khali, one of the largest deserts in the world, has an area of about 650,000 sq km (about 250,000 sq mi), nearly as large as the U.S. state of Texas.
An Nafud is characterized by parallel sand ridges, most 6 to 15 m (20 to 50 ft) high, but some sand hills rise as high as 30 m (100 ft). In some areas, wind has stripped the bedrock surface clean of loose material.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Vicious Circle of Poverty

Wednesday, August 17, 2011 - 0 Comments

Question: What is vicious circle of poverty? How can it be tackled?
Question: Explain the vicious circle of poverty. How does it check the growth of capital in a poor country?
Question: “A country is poor because a country is poor” (Nurkse). Discuss.

The poverty in this world of ours is a great curse is admitted on all hands. Poverty is not only distressing but it is also demoralising. A poor man is disgrace to society, but a cause of humiliation to the person himself. But the worst thing about poverty is that a poor man is ought in vicious circle. Being poor, he lacks the means to prosper and since he lacks means to prosper, he must remain poor. The vicious circle is complete. Poverty leads to inefficiency and incapacity to do well, and efficiency and incapacity must end in poverty. That is why we generally find that poverty is perpetuated from generation to generation. It is cumulative that is the curse of poverty and vicious circle.
What is true of the individual is true of community as a whole for an under developed economy to develop economically is needed an uphill task. The rate of savings and investment in an under developed economy is too low to make for rapid development and since the rate of savings and development is too small, it must remain under developed. Here is the vicious circle of poverty embracing the entire economy. As Nurkse says “It implies a circular constellation of forces tending to act and react upon one another in such a way as keep a poor country in a state of poverty. A country is poor because a country is poor”.
The crux of the problem is capital formation. The rate of capital formation is affected by both demand for and supply of capital. Let us take the demand side first. In a poor country, the level of productivity and so of incomes is very low which means a low purchasing power. Since the purchasing power of the people is low, the scope for business and industry is correspondingly limited. The inducement to invest is practically absent. The rate of investment being low productivity is low and the incomes are small, completing the vicious circle. On the side of supply, in a poor country having a low level of income, the rate of savings must be small. The resulting lack of capital leads to low productivity and low incomes, thus completing the vicious circle.
The two vicious circles relating to the demand side and supply side can be represented diagrammatically as under

The vicious circle must be broken at both ends. The supply of savings both from domestic and foreign sources must be increased and the state must provide incentives for investment by means of a suitable monetary and fiscal policy. The low level of real income reflecting low productivity is the crucial point both in the demand circle and the supply circle.

On these two the supply end is more difficult to break, than the demand end. It is obviously easy to create or increase demand for capital but it is not so easy to make up the deficiency of capital. The country may also suffer from lack of natural resources like water and mineral resources or the poverty of the soil. But in the matter of economic development the things of vital importance are the small capacity to save and small inducement invest. Other deficiencies can be made up and the handicap of the natural factor removed of the problem of capital formation is successfully tackled.
However one should not make too much of this concept of vicious circle. Indeed as Gunar Myrdd has pointed out, it is also possible to conceive of a vicious circle being created in the same context.

Basic Characteristics of Under Developed Countries

Question: What are the basic characteristics of under developed economies?
Question: What are the main characteristics of less developed countries?
Question: What are the main characteristics of under-developed countries?

The general nature of an under-developed economy may be gathered from common economic characteristics of such an economy. It may be too much to talk of the common economic characteristics of under-developed countries in view of the wide diversity of among under-developed countries as revealed by numerous case studies that have been made. While it would be very difficult to locate a representative under-developed country, it is much easier to bring out some fundamental characteristics common to under-developed countries. These main characteristics of under-developed countries are given below.

1. Low per Capita Income:
The per capita income in under-developed countries is extremely low. The average annual income in under-developed countries like India Pakistan and Srilanka is nearly $130 per head as compared with $6640 in the USA. Low per capita income is an out standing feature of an under developed economy and is a significant measure of a country’s development.

2. Deficiency of Capital Equipment:
The insufficient amount of physical capital in existence is also a characteristic feature of all under-developed economies. Hence they are often called simply “capital poor” economies. One indication of the capital deficiency is the low amount of capital per head of population. Not only is the capital stock extremely small but the current of capital formation is also very low. In most under-developed countries investment is only 5 percent to 8 percent of the national income, where as in the USA, Canada and Western Europe it is generally from 15 percent to 18 percent.
The low level of capital formation in the under-developed country is due both to the weakness of ducement to invest and to the low propensity and capacity to save. In under developed economy at the root of capital deficiency is the shortage of savings. The per capita income being quite low most of it is spent in satisfying the bare necessaries of life, leaving a very low margin of income for capital accumulation. Even with an increase in the level of individual incomes, there does not usually follow a higher rate of saving because of the tendency to emulate the higher levels of consumption prevailing in the advanced countries.

3. Excessive Dependence on Agriculture:
Most under developed countries are predominantly agricultural. A great majority of their population are engaged in agriculture and allied occupations. This excessive dependence on agriculture is due to the fact that non-agricultural occupation have not grown at a rate of commensurate with the increase in population for lack of sufficient investment outside agriculture. The labour-land ratio being high agricultural holidays have become sub-divided into small plots, which do not permit the use of modern mechanical methods of production.

4. Rapid Rate of Population Growth:
Although there is diversity among under-developed economies in respect of their population, there appears to be a common feature namely a rapid rate of population increase. This rate has been rising still more in recent years. Thanks to the advances in medical science which have greatly reduced the mortality due to epidemics and diseases. While the death rate has thus fallen phenomenally, birth rate does not yet show any significant decline so that the natural survival rate has become much larger. IN countries like India, Pakistan, Burma a veritable population explosion is faced.

5. Unemployment and Under-employment:
An important consequence of rapid rate of population growth without a corresponding increase in the level of economic development is that there is large scale unemployment in urban areas and disguised unemployment in rural areas. More and more people are thrown on land, since alternative occupations do not develop simultaneously to absorb surplus population. It means that there are more persons engaged in agriculture than are actually needed, so that the addition of such persons does not add to land’s productivity. Even if some of the persons are withdrawn from land no fall in production will follow from such withdrawal.

6. Under-utilization of Natural Resources:
The natural resources are an under-developed economy is either unutilized or under-utilized. Generally speaking under-developed countries are not deficient in land, water, mineral, forest or power resources, though they may be untapped. In other words they constitute only potential resources. The main problem in their case is that such resources have not been fully and properly utilized due to various difficulties such as the deficiency of capital equipment, the inaccessibility of natural resources, primitive techniques and the small extent of the market.

7. Foreign Trade-Orientation:
An under-developed economy is generally foreign trade-oriented. They export raw materials instead of utilising them at home and import manufactures instead of making them at home. Since in some cases like Srilanka Burma and Thailand, they export a significant proportion of their national output, they may be termed “export economies”. Excessive dependence on export makes these economies precarious and unstable and affects adversely their terms of trade. The marginal propensity to impart too is high in such countries.

8. Low Levels of Technology and Skills:
The under-developed countries employ primitive methods of production and inferior and less productive techniques. There is also a terrible death of skilled personnel. Poor techniques and lower skills result in inefficient and insufficient production, which cause general poverty.

9. Economic Backwardness:
The people of under-developed countries are economically backward. The economic backwardness manifests itself in lower efficiency, illiteracy, poverty, factor-immobility, lack of enter preneurship and ignorance in economic matters. Their value structure and social structure reduces incentives for economic change.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Satiric Methods Used by Swift in Gulliver’s Travels

Monday, August 8, 2011 - 3 Comments

Question: Analyse and criticize the satiric methods used by Swift in Gulliver’s Travels.


Swift, in Gulliver’s Travels, adopt different methods and devices of satire, which includes both comic satire as well as corrosive satire. The most distinguished and outstanding satirists were the Romans, Horace and Juvenal. They represent two different modes of satire. Horace used to write comic satires, while Juvenal distinguished himself by writing sever and lashing satire. The comic satire always creates laughter, while in the other one, laughter is at the minimum, or it may be completely absent. Swift employs the corrosive type of satire, and makes use of the comic ones in order to refresh his readers.
We find several examples of comic satire in Gulliver’s Travels. In the first part of the book, the passage dealing with High-Heel and the Low-Heels, while describing the political conflict between the two political parties of England and the Big-endians and the Small-endians problem between the two religious fations are the best examples of a comic satire. In the same part, we read about Gulliver, who has deserved the highest gratitude from the Lilliputians, commits capital offence, when he urinates in the precincts of the royal palace in order to extinguish a fire, which breaks out in the place. Similarly “for refusing to seize all the ships of Blefuscu and put to death all the Big-endian exiles” is another example of corrosive satire in the first part of the book. Though the entire event creates laughter, but the court’s debate on how to dispose of Gulliver, basically belongs to the category of corrosive satire. This episode is the longest passage which deals with the climax of the first voyage, the attack is very bitter. In this passage, Swift exposes the hypocrisy, ingratitude and cruelty of the Lilliputian court, who gave a cruel verdict to blind Gulliver and to let him starve to death. That is why, the satire is extraordinarily bitter and corrosive. We also enjoy the scandal between Gulliver and the Lilliputian lady who is hardly six inches high and in his long defence Gulliver never mentions the difference in his own size with that of the Lilliputian lady.

In the second part of the book which deals with the Brobdingnag, we find quite interesting and mirthful descriptions, which increase the comic episodes and the corrosive satire carries far more weight than in part-I of the book. Because in this part, the comic effect is achieved, where people were like giants about sixty feet height, which is Lilliput in reverse. Everything was humiliating for Gulliver in this land. He was put in charge of a nine year old girl who grew very found of him. The girl was very good-natured. Her height was forty feet and she was considered to be undersized for her age. Gulliver, who is no bigger than a mouse in this land becomes famous throughout the country. In this way Gulliver is made a comic butt in several other episodes. The corrosive effect is achieved when the king of Brobdingnag discusses the mankind with Gulliver. The King describes the bulk of mankind as “the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that Nature has ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth.” This is, without any doubt is a corrosive criticism, which the king of Brobdingnag ahs made against the mankind. It is definitely not comic. Gulliver positively expresses his great surprise and embarrassment, when he listens all this against his beloved country so abdly described. Even listening to these disgraceful remarks, Gulliver still suggests that the king may be given great allowance because he lives a scheduled life from the rest of the world. This comment further worsens the status of mankind. Swift does not stop with this much taunt and lashes another attack when Gulliver divulges the secret of gunpowder to the king who is completely horrified with its fatal results. He forbids Gullivers not to mention it again. Gulliver passes his most astonishing remarks that the king possesses short views and narrow principles.

When we turn over the pages of the book to its third part we find Gulliver in another strange country called Laputa. This is the funniest part of the book, especially when we come across “flappers” or servant who carry a blown bladder in their hands fastened to a short stick. It is done basically to attract the attention of their master who are intensely busy in their inventions and mathematical calculations. They can neither speak nor listen to others unless they are aroused by these flappers. This is all very comic and amusing. On the dinner table, there are different dishes, in which the mutton is cut into an equilateral triangle, pudding in geometrical shapes. What to speak of these descriptions, we are amused when the beauty of a woman is describe in geometrical terms such as circles and parallegrams. We are further surprised when their women indulge in extra-marital activities with the strangers in the presence of their husbands because they are so busy that they do not find time to make love to their wives. It is a social hit and at the same time a more corrosive than comic satire. We are further amused when we read about various projects being experimented at the academy in Lagado where research work is carried out how to extract sunbeams out of cucumber and silk out of cobwebs. Similarly, how to build houses from the roof downwards. This is a satire on the kind of work which the Royal Society in England was engaged in extremely stupid as well as useless projects in those days. Another corrosive satire is made by Swift when he tells us how a visitor wanting to meet the king had to creep on the floor and lick it when approaching the King. All this, in short is a satire on the human desire for immorality. It is passively a bitter satire.
The fourth part of the book is replete with corrosive satire deep and merciless. In his part, Swift divides the human nature in two parts. He shows Houyhnhnms (the horses) possessing reason and benevolence and on its contrary the Yahoos (the deformed human beings) as extraordinarily brutes. The satire would have been much less effective it the Houyhnhnms had been shown as a superior human race. The reader would not have felt himself inferior to Houyhnhnms.
Swift is realist in his approach, because there is more of the Yahoos in mankind than there is of benevolence and reason. Thus his attack becomes more forceful, when he knows and describes that there is much to be hated in the animal called man, but he never forgets that here are many loveable individuals among human beings. Gulliver’s physical sense of proportion was upset by his voyage to Lilliput and Brobdingnag, in the lands of midgets and giants, so in the land of Houyhnhnms and Yahoos, his intellectual sense of proportion is miserable overbalanced “The limited, simplified Houyhnhnms point of view is obviously better to him than the Yahoo state; and he clings to it. Swift can keep clear the double physical scale of Gulliver and giant; not so Gulliver. Similarly, Swift himself is convinced that he is a Yahoo.”

“A satire of Swift’s is… exhibited situation, or series of such situations… With a recognition of the situation as such comes a perception of the functional character of Swift’s favourite devices, which serve both in the creation of the situation and in the generation of the kinetic energy by which it is sustained. There at least five devices that strike us forcibly; drama by way of created characters; parody or at any rate the imitation of a specific literary genre; allegory the “myth”, and “discoveries, projects and machines.”

Bacon as a Writer of Essays

Question: “They come home to men’s business and bosoms.” How far is this an apt description of the essays of Bacon? Illustrate your answer.

Question: Account for the great appeal of Bacon’s essays.

Question: Write a general note on Bacon as a writer of essays.

Answer: A glance at the titles of Bacon’s essays shows that, although quite a number of these essays were written for the benefit of kings, rulers courtiers, and statesmen, a fairly large number of them were written on subjects of popular interest. Essays Of Seditions and Troubles, Of Empire, Of the True Greatness of Kingdoms and Estatus, Of Suitors and Of Judicature belong to the former variety. But essays like Of Truth, Of Death, Of Revenge, Of Adversity, Of Parents and Children, Of Marriage and Single Life, Of Travel, and Of Friendship, deal with familiar subjects which make an immediate appeal to the average reader. Essays of this category certainly come home to men’s business and bosoms.
One important reason for the popular appeal of Bacon’s essays is that the ideas which he expresses are by no means deeply philosophical or abstruse. If the ideas were of an abstract or metaphysical nature, the average reader would not respond to them. But these are ideas which might be expressed by any man of ripe wisdom and vast experience of the world.
Secondly, Bacon illustrates and reinforces his ideas and arguments with appropriate similes, metaphors and quotations. These similes, metaphors and quotations naturally add to the popular appeal of the essays. Thirdly, Bacon frequently speaks in his essays as a moralist. Although people do not generally like too much of sermonising and preaching, yet judicious doses of morality are not only willingly accepted by readers but are positively welcome to them. Moral precepts and maxims embodying wisdom give the readers a feeling that they are becoming wise and morally nobler. They may not act upon the ethical principles which Bacon enunciates in his essays, but they derive a certain moral satisfaction by reading them and by appreciating their soundness.
Lastly, Bacon’s essays come home to men’s business and bosoms because of the condensed and pithy state in which he mostly writes. Again and again, the reader comes upon an aphoristic or epigrammatic sentence which startles and arrests him by its neatness and pregnancy. These are many gems of thought clothed in language that is effective because of its compactness and terseness.
Take the essay, Of Truth. It contains several ideas which immediately appeal to the reader because of their obvious truth to human nature. The reader quickly responds to such ideas because he at once recognises their validity. For instance, Bacon here tells us that human beings are generally attracted by lies. Lies told by poets in their poetry please the imagination; lies told by traders bring them financial gain; but why people should tell lies for the sake of lies is not clear. Bacon then goes on to say that truth gives greater pleasure when a lie has been added to it. If a man were to be deprived of his false opinions, false hopes, and false judgments, he would feel miserable.
Having expressed these views, Bacon speaks like a moralist and says that much harm is done by lies which sink into the mind and settle down there. Truth is the supreme good for human beings, he says. He quotes Lucretius who said that the greatest pleasure for a man was the realisation of truth. Continuing this moralising tone, Bacon says that truth is important not only in theological and philosophical fields, but also in the sphere of ordinary daily life. Falsehood, he says, brings nothing but disgrace. Now such ideas are bound to appeal even to a reader who, in his actual dealings, does not give a high place to truth.
Then there is the essay, Of Friendship. Who would not be interested in this subject? Bacon tells us some of the uses of friendship, illustrating his ideas with historical references to Sulla, Julius Caesar; Augustus Caesar, Tiberius Caesar, and Septimius Severus. He utters a psychological truth when he says that a man’s joy is greatly increased when he speaks about it to a friend and that his grief is greatly diminished when he imparts it to a friend. This essay also contains useful advice. For instance, Bacon asks us not to take counsel “by pieces” from all and sundry but to take it only from a friend who has been found to be sincere. An essay on the subject of friendship is bound to come home to men’s bosoms especially because the ideas expressed by Bacon confirm the reader’s own ideas on this subject.
The essay, Of Great Place, does not have the same popular appeal as the two essays mentioned above, Of Great Place appeals chiefly to men in high places. It is very useful for persons of this category. Bacon offers very sound advice to those occupying high positions, and warms them against the chief vices of authority. Here, too, Bacon lends weight to his argument with reference to two Roman emperors—Galba and Vespasian. Bacon gives advice that is practical when he says that a man may take side when he is still struggling to rise but that, having risen to a high position, he should become neutral. This essay, too, throws much light on human nature whereby it greatly adds to our knowledge. Here, again, Bacon appears as a moralist.
The essay, Of Studies, is extremely interesting. Here, again Bacon deals with a subject of popular interest. Bacon not only indicates the principal uses of studies but also tells us why and how we should read. Who can fail to appreciate Bacon’s remark that the wisdom gained from books is not enough but that it should be supplemented with practical experience of life?
Of Marriage and Single Life deals with the advantages and disadvantages of both the married and the single life. Here is an essay which cannot fail to interest either the married man or the single man. Bacon makes some interesting observations about the nature and behaviour of women in this essay. A chaste woman, he rightly says, feels proud of her chastity. A wife is faithful and obedient to her husband if she is impressed with his wisdom. No jealous husband can command his wife’s respect. It would be difficult for any reader to find fault with such observations. Indeed, the ideas expressed in this essay can be understood and appreciated even by the most ordinary reader. Bacon’s analysis of human nature here, as in his other essays, corresponds to well-known facts.
The essay, Of Suitors, pertains chiefly to conditions which prevailed in Bacon’s day. In spite of that, this essay has its value in our time also. It is full of worldly wisdom. It contains useful advice for those who undertake suits, for suitors, and for patrons. Bacon does not preach any ideal morality here. He is concerned only with how to achieve success in the undertaking of suits or in the promoting of suits. However, he does not show a complete disregard of morality. That is the kind of thing most readers want.
Much of the popularity of Bacon’s essays, as has already been indicated above, is due to his compact style. Many are the sentences in his essays that have the character of proverbs because such sentences express wisdom neatly in a pithy manner. A few examples of Bacon’s epigrammatic style will illustrate the great charm which his essays possess because of this particular quality of style.
1. “Certainly it is heaven upon earth to have a man’s mind move in charity, rest in providence, and turn upon the roles of truth.” (Of Truth)

Monday, August 1, 2011

Chaucer’s Realism

Monday, August 1, 2011 - 0 Comments

Question: “Chaucer sees what is and paints it as he sees it. He effaces himself in order to look at it better.” (Legouis)  Discuss.

Question: Write a note on Chaucer’s realism. Give suitable illustrations.

Legouis in his History of English Literature (written by him in collaboration with Cazamian) pays a high, but just, tribute to Chaucer’s realism and his self-effacement in his observations and recording of the life of his age. That he has effectively captured for us the body and soul and the life of his age has been universally recognized. Once reason why his work is so authentic and impressive is that he has a tendency to efface himself. Were he more obtrusive and more self-centred, or more didactic and reform-minded, his work would have been proportionally less realistic, less interesting, and less convincing.

Chaucer’s Chosen Field:
The vivid and authentic portrayal of the life and manners of his age was Chaucer’s chosen field for which nature and experience had equipped him so exquisitely. But Chaucer came to this field after a long journey in the dim valleys of allegory and dream poetry based on his contemporary French and Italian models. It was only when he was about fifty that he realized that his real field lay elsewhere.
With The Canterbury Tales Chaucer’s aim and practice as a poet underwent a sea change. He descended from the ethereal regions of romance and allegory and the dream-world of conventional literature, and planted his feet firmly on the ground. Here, to quote an opinion, ‘the fantastic world of romance and allegory melts away; Troy and Thebes, palaces made of glass and temples of brass, allegorical gardens and marvellous fountains evaporate, and in their place we see the whole stream of English society in the fourteenth century.” In The Canterbury Tales Nature herself became Chaucer’s model. He saw what was, and painted that he saw.

No Complete Self-effacement:
Chaucer could have claimed like Fielding that he gave “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”. He was decidedly the first realist in English literature. Much of his realism is indebted to his tendency towards self-effacement which is necessary for a dramatist and very desirable for a novelist. The dramatist himself does not appear on the stage. He reveals his characters through what they say and do and does not offer to interpret for the reader or the spectator their words and deeds. The novelist does likewise, though he is much freer than the dramatist. Chaucer has well been called the first novelist even before the appearance of the novel, as also the first dramatist before the appearance of the drama in England.
Nevertheless, it must be emphasized that so far as The Canterbury Tales is concerned, Chaucer does not efface himself completely, though he does see what is and does paint it as he sees it. It is particularly true of the Prologue where he himself seems to be very much present like the guide in a picture gallery, nudging the spectator with his elbow and directing his attention to this or that feature f one portrait or the other. In the tales proper, however, the writer disappears completely and presents himself only as a reporter of the words and deeds of the pilgrims on the road, who go jostling and story-telling and raising a cloud of dust behind them. Thus, whereas in the Prologue Chaucer adopts the static mode of characterization, in the tales he adopts the dramatic mode. In the Prologue it is he who is supposed to be enlightening us about the dress, appearance, habits, and salient traits of the pilgrims; in the tales he lets them do it for themselves.

The Prologue:
Irrespective of the question whether Chaucer effaces himself or not in the Prologue, it is commonly conceded that the characters he draws are thoroughly realistic. All of them seem to have been drawn from life. His portraits show how penetratingly observant an eye he possessed. His record of the minutest details of the appearance, dress, and behaviour of the pilgrims makes their portraits disarmingly convincing. Consider, for instance, the description of the Miller:
His berd as any sowe or fox was rede,
And thereto brode, as though it wer a spade.
What makes these portraits all the more realistic is the seeming spontaneity with which Chaucer draws them. When Chaucer is telling us something about a pilgrim it seems that he or she is standing right before him and he is looking at what is and painting what he is looking at. Chaucer uses that greatest of arts which lies in concealing all semblance of art. “No small part of the realism of these portraits,” says W. H. Clawson, “is their informality, their lack of regular order.” The details about the pilgrims seem to be coming from him without any method or design, and that is exactly what induces in the reader a strong feeling of the actuality of the characters who are being so described.
Another relevant point to be kept in view is Chaucer’s broad-mindedness, his lack of prejudice, and his real sympathy with all classes and conditions of people. Irrespective of the fact whether he is dealing with a rascal or a saint, an angel or a devil, he shows no trace of either anger and bitterness or excessive reverence. He rejects nothing but likes all. He leaves the task of improving the world to his contemporaries such as Langland, Wyclif, and the “moral Gower.” As for himself he accepts the world as he finds it. He paints many rascals indeed (most of the pilgrims are in fact rascals), without pillorying or strongly indicting any one of them. He is too indulgent and tolerant for that. His all-embracing human sympathy prevents him from standing between the portrait and the spectator. Let the spectator himself judges and arraigns, if he likes, the characters whose portraits he has drawn; the painter’s work is over. We may also notice the happy absence of idealization from Chaucer’s character-portrayal. The characters of the Knight, the Plowman, and the poor Parson are the only exceptions.
On the whole, the characters are so lifelike that some critics have suggested that Chaucer might have painted from real life. J. M. Manly; for instance, opines that Chaucer had in mind some “definite persons” while portraying the pilgrims in the Prologue. It will be an ideal pastime to contest issues with this critic. We should not approach literature with the attitude of a detective to search into the raw material which a creative artist employs. It is enough for us to recognize the fact that Chaucer’s characters are very lifelike. His characters, in the words of Palgrave, are
Seen in his mind so vividly, that we
Know them, more clearly than the men we see.
What we should insist on is not the “actuality” of a writer’s work, but its verisimilitude. What a writer gives may not (and should not) be a literal transcription of reality, but only a semblance of it. Aristotle considers poetry more philosophical and more real than history, and he is quite right. To say that Chaucer copied real characters from life will be underrating his literary genius. His is not a mechanic art. Well does A. C. Ward remark: “It would of course be foolish to suppose that everything in the Prologue is ‘from the life.’ Chaucer was too good of artist and had too lively an imagination to be a mere copyist, even of life itself. Life was only his raw material, to which he could on occasion give a more convincing and satisfying shape than Nature’s own. So we can only guess at how far Chaucer drew upon imparted information and how far upon his own sense of probability.”

The Tales:
Unlike in the Prologue, in the tales proper Chaucer effaces himself completely like a perfect dramatist. He is there, of course, and he is one of the pilgrims, too; but he is there as a spectator and an authentic reporter. In the tales the portraits walk out of their frames, as it were, and reveal themselves through the tales they narrate, the comments which they make on each other’s tales, and their mutual exchanges and even skirmishes. It is in the tales that the author disappears completely. Right in the beginning of the Prologue Chaucer takes pains to emphasize his role as mere reporter. He feigns even to have reproduced the very words spoken by the pilgrims in the narration of their tales:
For this ye knowen also wel as I,
Who-so shall tell a tale aftere a man,
He moot reherce, as ny as evere he can,
Everich a word, if it be in his charge,
Al speke he never so rudelie and large;
Or elles moot tells his tale untrewe,
Or feyne things or fynde words newe.
So the author bows out of the scene and assumes the role of a spectator and reporter. Each story is intended to reveal its narrator. Legouis maintains: “It then behoves the author to conceal himself, to sacrifice his own literary talent and sense of proportion, and give place to another, who may be ignorant, garrulous, clumsy, foolish, or coarse, or moved by enthusiasms and prejudices unshared by his creator.” And what a sacrifice! Says the same critic: “In The Canterbury Tales the element of the poet’s personality has been subdued, superseded, by pleasure in observing and understanding. Hitherto this degree of peaceful, impartial spectatorship had never been reached by poets.”
It is interesting to note how the tale of each pilgrim is in conformity with his or her character a glimpse of which is provided by the poet in the Prologue. In many a case the story gives finishing touches to the portrait of the narrator as initially set forth in the Prologue. Chaucer here seems to have followed the classical principle of decorum without being aware of it. And it is not only the content of each story but also its diction which reveals its narrator. The prioress, being an ecclesiastic, tells, appropriately enough the story of a Christian saint murdered by the “cursed Jews”. The knight comes out with a tale of chivalry. The merry, sporting Monk, on being exhorted by the Host to tell a “merry” tale, revengefully narrates a long melancholy tale of the fall of Lucifer, Adam, Samson, Hercules, and many more, but he is shut up mid way by the fervent words of the Host:
Sire Monk, no moore of this, so God yow blesse!
Your tale anoyeth al this compaignye.
He asks the Monk to narrate instead a story of hunting, but the latter does not oblige, and retires sullenly. The tipsy Miller offers to tell a bawdy story of the seduction of a carpenter’s wife by a clerk. The Reeve (who does the work of a carpenter also) protests at the Miller’s “lewed drunken harlotrye”:
It is a synne and eek a greet folye
To apeyren any man, or hym defame,
And eek to bryngen wyves in swich fame
Thou mayst ynogh of other thynges seyn.
But the Miller ignores his protest and tells his ribald story. The Reeve in retaliation narrates the story of the seduction of a miller’s wife and daughter by two Cambridge scholars. The Friar tells the story of a roguish summoner who is carried by the Devil to hell. The Summoner in reply comes out with the story of a greedy friar who is humbled on account of his greed. The Nun tells a story of miracles. Chaucer himself comes out with perhaps the dullest of tales. His boring narrative is cut short by the Host after he has proceeded to the extent of some thirty stanzas:
“Namoore of this, for Goddes dignitee,”
quod oure Hooste, “for thou makest me
So wery of thy verray lewednese
That, also wisly God my soule bless,
Myne eres aken of thy drasty speche.”
Chaucer’s choice of the dullest tale for himself is a refreshing example of self-directed irony. Only a great humorist can laugh at himself; and Chaucer is certainly among the greatest humorists. He is really delightful in his laughter at his own expense. How can we believe that he was the least skilled of all the narrators?
As a man, Chaucer depicts himself, in the words of the Host, as a shy, unobtrusive, self-effacing, and shoe-contemplating person. This is how the Host addresses him:
And sayde thus, “What man artow?” quod he:
“Thou lookest as thou woldest fynde an hare,
For ever upon the ground I se thee stare.”
On being asked to come out with a “tale of mirth” by the Host he pleads his ignorance very politely:
“Hoostee”, quod I, “ne beth nat yvele apayd,
For other tale certes kan I noone,
But of a rhym I lemed long agoone.”

Whether or not Chaucer was an unobtrusive a man as he presents himself in The Canterbury Tales, it is true that as an artist he followed the principle of least interference with his material. The degree of his self-effacement is really surprising. He does not project the tint of his likes and dislikes, fads and fetishes, views and prejudices on what he paints. He is no moralist either. “Like Shakespeare”, says Compton-Rickett, “he makes it his business, in The Canterbury Tales, to paint life as he sees it, and leaves others to draw the moral.” Thus, to conclude, “Chaucer sees what is and paints it as he sees it.” And what is more, “he effaces himself in order to look at it better”.

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