Chaucer shows the medieval English society in many ways in his masterpiece The Canterbury Tales. The Merchant, one of his characters who tell tales, well serves this purpose.

There are hints that denote the social context in which Chaucer’s story happened. In the medieval period, agriculture dominated the economy of England, and there were huge numbers of the population engaging in this industry. People working in the land or going fishing were at the bottom of the then society, while the king and noble at the top. In the meanwhile, the trade business stared to grow, and because of this, a new class came into being. The Merchant in Chaucer’s great piece is an excellent example of this upcoming middle class. Under Chaucer’s pen, he “told of his opinions and pursuits in solemn tones, and how he never lost”.

One could see that the Merchant delivers his speech with great confidence, and boasts of his success in a pompous manner. This middle-class man represents the prosperous group that were active and successful traders among various European cities in the late medieval period. This explains why such character would appear in the work that is about the medieval English society. In this time, there were changes going through the society. People begun to change their opinions of and attitudes towards their religion and the church. So did the social structure. A new class appeared, and people with new profession became economically successful.

In such period, it should be noticed that social status played an essential role in daily life, and there were even dress codes for people belonging to different classes. The poor like farmers were not allowed to wear clothes that were made of expensive and precious materials such as silk and also that were in certain colors. The image of the Merchant in Chaucer’s work demonstrates this idea through the way of dressing. He is described as one with “forking beard, motley dress….a Flemish beaver hat… daintily buckled boots”. This description distinguishes the Merchant from the working class and also the noble such as the Knight, a character also depicted in the work. It is this fashion that explains and underlines the status of the Merchant as part of the wealthy middle class. It can be said that the way of dress has become a symbol of one’s status in the society.

Meanwhile, the Merchant is also criticized. He is actually in a difficult financial situation, but he tries to hide his problems, hoping that in this way, nobody knows “he was in debt”. What he does is an violation of the then society. Therefore, there is an irony when the narrator comments: “He was an excellent fellow all the same”.

Chaucer’s use of characters is much significant in terms of depicting the medieval English society, and through his use, one could interpret the author’s opinions of this society. The Merchant could be regarded as an approach to understand Chaucer’s society and his ideas.