A Changing Society and the Divide Between the Selves


The world is changing constantly and not a single moment in time can fully repeat, however in eras of economic and technological advancement, one can see a similar struggle for balance between the secular and spiritual self.  “The Brothers Karamazov” by Fyodor Dostoevsky and “The Canterbury Tales” by Geoffrey Chaucer both depict characters that are battling the need to care for their spiritual selves while living in a growing secular society thus paralleling a modern person’s construction of a ‘buffered self’ creating a strain between the 21st century’s needs for technological resources and the detriment of the environment.  Dostoevsky lived in the time of the industrial revolution and was faced with a world of increasing secularism and westernization of Russian culture.  His follower, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, said in his Harvard address that the history of the western world shows the denigration of western spirituality creating a society that lacks meaningfulness.  The theory of the slow progression of an increasingly non-spiritual society is upheld based on today’s obsession with global connection.  Many people fear the progression of future generations’ lack of connection to a world outside of technology. Author William Powers wrote;

“The whole world is within easy reach… It’s a lot of work managing all this     connectedness. The e-mails, texts, and voicemails; the pokes, prods, and tweets;   the alerts and comments… By the time, you read this there will be completely    new modes of connecting… Our tools are fertile, constantly multiplying” (2).

Powers, like many others, are concerned that people are more connected with machines then with other people and the natural world.  People in modern society are thus left with a yearning to find a quiet place for the mind to find rest.  According to Charles Taylor it is this division of modern people from a more spiritual view of life that creates the buffered self against a more porous self.  The buffered self is one that closes itself off to the rest of the world and looks for meaning within the self; while the porous self finds that the source of the most powerful and important emotions is found outside of one’s self.  (Taylor 37-38).  The first section of this article will look at the main three brothers within “The Brothers Karamazov” and the different ways that their interactions with the world outside of themselves helps to shape their personalities and then lives.  Dostoevsky emphasizes the importance of maintaining a spiritual connection and the potential dangers to oppressing that spiritual connections once made.  In section two, the focus will be on “The Canterbury Tale’s Man of Law’s Tale”, where the character Constance is highly connected to the natural world, which gives her a monk-like spirituality.  She provides an example to the modern reader on how to nurture the porous self.  The lack of the porous-ness in modern society leaves people wanting more but searching in the wrong places.  People want to be connected but the connectedness that they should be searching for is not within other people but in the natural world surrounding them.  In this global age people are often tied to technology so much so that parks are left uninhabited and in longing of those days when children loved to be in them.  The average modern reader is not spending time in nature, leading them to care more about their newest gadget the survival of the plant that makes it possible to live.

 Passionate Connections to the Green World

Similar to the way in which modern people are attached to their cellphones and Facebook, so are 19th century peoples’ quest for progress in the industrial age.  Smog is polluting the air and the lungs of miners. Children are dropping out of school to be sent to work.  During the Industrial Revolution, there is a great change in the way in which society functioned as the fight between capitalism and socialism created a deep moral split in Russian society.  In the Brothers Karamazov, multiple characters give way to moments of passion in ways that reveal their connection to their spiritual self because each character is a depiction of the human struggle between a secular and sacred way of life which was prominent in the late 19th century.  Each member of the Karamazov family has moments of passion that are representatives of the two inner selves fighting for control over the individual’s actions.  In some cases, a brother  enters into what Frye called “The Green World” or they can attempt to be rational and suppress the natural spirit that was prominent in their family.  The green world is not only a place that can open and transcend normal society, but is linked with human bodies, however in modern society and in the time of the 19th century there was a few that the green world would be consumed by rationalism (Edward 7).  People were experiencing a more consumeristic culture during Dostoevsky’s time period which forced many in to a more material life style which at times created conflict with their spiritual natures.  Dostoevsky uses complex character depiction in order to show the complexity of the effects that the Industrial Revolution was having on the 19th century people.   The three brothers Karamazov are each meant to represent a different part of this internal conflict happening in Russia: Alyosha was the depiction of spiritual love, Ivan was the depiction of an atheistic academic philosophy, and Dimitri a depiction of secular passions. Despite the fact that each of the three brothers both interact with the world differently, they all undergo the core struggle of industrial revolutionary contemporaries.

From the very beginning of the novel, the reader can get a sense that in the Karamazov family something is not quite right, there is a shadow of strangeness that is attached to them.  The particular strangeness that is prominent in their family allows for certain rational rules to be unadhered to, allowing them to slip into a more fantastical green world.  Passion in its very basic definition is having a strong feeling about something.  The Brothers Karamazov in many ways is a novel about strong feelings and the way in which they become jumbled up with each other.  There is natural energy or movement in the novel that fuels all sources of action, what many called the “Karamazov spirit.”  It is this spirit which allows members of the family to separate themselves from the rest of society and depending on the person has different affects.   In the original perpetrator, Fyodor Pavlovich, the father and murder victim, was known as a fool throughout the town of Skotoprigonyevsk.  In the Chapter “The Old Buffon” the saintly elder Zoisma tells Fyodor to be himself to which he comments, “You mean in my natural state? Oh, that is much, too much… when I walk into a room, that I’m lower than anyone else. And that everyone takes me for a buffoon so ‘Why not, indeed, play the buffoon, I’m not afraid of your opinions…” (34).  Fyodor is attempting to have restraint in masking his true character, however there is a lack of control in the Karamazov character.  There is a need from freedom from the restrain of the modern world and a want to indulge in that world as well.  In Charles Taylor’s article “The Buffered vs the Porous Self”, the porous self is when the mind and the enchanted/spiritual world are connected and influenced by each other; “the porousness of the boundary emerges in … various kinds of ‘possession’” (2).   For the Karamazov family that spirit that travels down through generations is similar to the very idea “porousness of the self” which comes from a lack of divide from the spiritual world into the real one.  Fyodor acknowledges the extent in which he chooses to indulge in the world but finds himself unable to fully recognize his need for an established spirituality within himself.  In Fyodor’s case, he takes the energy he had within himself, that tension between secular and spiritual and makes the secular his outlet for the spiritual.  Fyodor acknowledges, sublimates and most importantly never denies its purpose in his life.   The only exception of any signs of restraint of that spirit that guides them comes from the intellectual Ivan.  The Karamazov spirit connects members of the family to the green world and takes them out of a closed world.  A Closed World is when the world surrounding the individual has boundaries that enclose them, and thus a fit of passion brings them out of that place into a more natural state of being (Edward 3).  This connectivity with their spiritual energy however comes at the price of falling into states of passion at multiple points throughout the novel.

There is only one character who roams through all spaces in the novel and has the least constraint throughout the novel, and that is Alyosha.  He is like the moving piece of the novel, who gets the action of the play to continue you.  Not all fits of passion end in negativity, and this cannot be truer than when looking at the blessed Alyosha.  Throughout the novel, he is presented as this sweet saintly companion to all, who listen and meditates on the happenings of the world.  It’s almost as if he plays as a moral compass for all that come across him.  Despite all of the positive qualities that he held he too gave way to moments of great feeling, because in a Dostoevsky’s world, all characters underwent the similar tribulations and fights despite the social circumstances that were given to any particular person (Palat 20).  In the case of Alyosha, he is the least secular of the three brothers, having spent much time at the monastery he has become this image of active love in the novel because of his attachment to all things good, his moment of feeling takes on a positive role in his life.  After the death of Elder Zoisma, Alyosha is at a loss of what to do with himself and is running around as if in a trance, ready to renounce all things that had to do with God, because even the holy have moments of relapse sometimes.  During this time, he finds himself wandering in the forest;

“The silence of the earth seemed to merge with the silence of the heavens, the mystery of the earth touched the mystery of the saints…. Alyosha stood gazing and suddenly, as if he had been cut down, threw himself to the earth…he was kissing it… and he vowed ecstatically to love it….”  (Dostoevsky 362).

In some way, the time that Alyosha has spent detached from the rest of society has lead him to be able to receive the love and light of God and give it to those who need it.  In this time of chaos, he did not know why he hugged the earth and vowed to love it but he was giving in to his spiritual needs and feelings.  This secluded area in the woods, within the natural world is what allowed Alyosha’s resurrection of self.  In Tatakēs article, he mentions that with the resignation from worldly things, one can surpass the secular world inside of someone and “he is resurrected into the theoretical life” (114).  There is a mystic love that surrounds the very presence of Alyosha that allows him to find connect with not only nature but with other people. In fact, after this moment in the woods, Alyosha more at peace and ready to take on the earthly world that keeps calling him away from the monastery life, he is needed more than ever before as a moral guide to those around him. Despite Alyosha’s affinity for monkhood, he takes the lessons of peace from the monastery and shares it with the secular society in which Alyosha finds himself so steadily tied.

In contrast to Alyosha, Ivan’s passions were attempted to be restrained but much like a dam breaks when the water flow is too strong, his barrier around a pressing green world broke. From the beginning, Ivan and Alyosha have different connections with the world in which they preside.  As stated above Alyosha has a connection with an older spiritual sense of self that is deeply rooted in a more natural world.  The mystic and spiritual self that Dostoevsky often depicts in his novel do not only associate themselves with the summit of spiritual transformation and consciousness, but also with the lowest moral and spiritual degradation (Stoeber 250).  Ivan is an academic man who sticks to the books he has studied.  He outwardly rejects the spiritual world and the Karamazov spirit outside his own world in order to maintain a certain rank in society.  Ivan wants to create the illusion of a completely buffered self; he wants to close the porous boundary within him permanently (Taylor 300).  For Ivan, his image and intelligence is what he values most of all.  “Ivan exemplifies [the] opposite of…. Christian Orthodox [ideals]…. Through his individualist focus on freedom and rational intelligence…” (Stoeber 255).   In the beginning of the novel, Ivan comes off as calculated and rational, but as the story continues the reader soon begins to see that Ivan does experience those strong feelings that is present in every other Karamazov.  The feelings of passion that he restrains become especially present after every conversation with Smerdyakov, Ivan Fyodor usually becomes violent.  “[Ivan] suddenly stopped and turned to Smerdyakov. Something strange happened… Ivan bit his lip, clenched his fists, and in another moment, would certainly have thrown himself on Smerdyakov…” (Dostoevsky 274).  While Fyodor or Dimitri might have thrown their emotions down onto Smerdyakov. Ivan continues to reject any connection to his emotional self.  He looks at each decision rationally and does attempts to not get to comfortable with those surrounding him.

Even though it may be tainted with frivolousness and earthly passionate overall it is led by simple-heartedness, but because Ivan represses all of it deep within himself, instead of the spirit leading him to a positive conscious realization about himself and the world, it begins to poison his mind.  By the end of the novel, the ‘rational’ Ivan with all his repressed internal passion, a certain mystic presence begins to take hold of him.  In the chapter “The Devil: Ivan Fyodorovich’s nightmare”, he finally succumbs to a horrid state of mental illness that was long in coming which leaves him doubting the reality in which he sets himself.  Ivan’s ignored feelings formed a Satanic mysticism that is contradictory to Alyosha’s divine-ness.  Thus, even though Ivan was ignoring the Karamazov passion that burned at his core, it found its way out into the real world in the only way that Ivan could recognize it, in hallucination.  The hallucination is reflected as the devil because of Ivan’s ceaseless desire to stay in the realm of realism and his continuous critique of the religious world; the demon says to Ivan “Because, like you, I myself suffer from the fantastic, and that is why I love your earthly realism.  Here you have it all outline…” (Dostoevsky 638).  Despite Ivan previously coming across as a believer of the non-spiritual world, through his hallucinations he is forced to encounter it.  Much like the Freudian slips that people in the real world have, Ivan has a superstitious slip of spirit with the creation of the devil in his hallucination.  “The devil is both symbol of the source of [Ivan’s] new found self-will and insightful voice of [his] consciousness [stemmed from his religious skepticism]” (Stoeber 255).  Ivan’s internal compulsion to follow a more capitalistic view of society rejects the old natural world however that view comes at a cost.  Ivan who was the most city-dweller out of all of the three brothers hardly ever interacts with the natural world.  There was only one moment in the novel, where Ivan fully interacts with the environment which was on the walk to the final meeting with Smerdyakov.  The weather took his inner turmoil as his mind slowly disintegrated into his madness.  By this point of the novel, there is only one person who is able to take him out of his mental state and that is Alyosha.  For as his instincts told him, he provides a certain amount of light into Ivan’s world that could be found in no one else in the novel.  Even though he is by no means the only holy character in the novel, he does use the spirit given to him by his genetics to be used for good, for active love, whereas Ivan let his take over even that which he values above all.

Lastly, the eldest brother Karamazov, who is symbolic for a sort of gluttonous and passionate way of living life.  Dimitri Karamazov is one who loves to live in the earthly world.  He lusts after women and drinks excessively.  At the beginning one assumes Dimitri to be most like his father, for he lets the Karamazov flee excessively into his worldly passions, however he does not ever fully renounce the spiritual world.  “He exemplifies a peculiarly Orthodox view – called ‘apophaticism’ according to which the knowledge of truth transcends rational expression” (Flath 586). Dimitri was the most dramatic example of the battle in 19th modern people’s desire for both a spiritual nature world and yet getting caught in the industrial one.  For mouths needed to be feed and the industrial revolution and consumer culture allowed for them to have food on the table.  In the chapter Delirium, after Grushenka finally choses Dimitri as her most precious love, and they indulge in their earthly desires. “[The party that ensued] was almost an orgy, a feast of feasts… In a word, something disorderly and absurd began, but Mitya was in his natural element… and the most absurd it all became the more his spirits rose” (432).  The money spent was not his but belonged to his betrothed Katerina.  He became a thief in his quest for physical luxurious of life.

Despite the inclination of Dimitri to simply follow the Karamazov spirit completely he does show some restraint. It could be that because Dimitri interacts with the natural world, perhaps more than the reader sees.  In the Confession chapters, Dimitri reveals to Alyosha the whole reasoning behind the madness and strong feelings between himself and his father which up until that point had been mysterious to both Alyosha and the readers.  Dimitri leads Alyosha into a little garden, when one first comes into it, one can be enchanted by the trees that surround the fence, or the wide meadow in the center of it or the fruits and vegetable gardens, however Dimitri leads Alyosha near “… a thicket of lindens and old currant…something that looked like the ruins of an ancient green gazebo… blackened and lopsided” (103).  Even though the garden is beautifully laid out, he chooses to spend time near these old and blackened bushes.  It is like the metaphor for his character and action in the novel.  Dimitri Karamazov though seemingly “guileless “and “irrational”, there is something deeper to him; in fact, “…Dimitri’s goodness and grace are present from the very beginning” (Flath 588).   The area of the garden in which Dimitri chooses to occupy at that time though deformed is still belonging of God’s natural world, and is a part of the whole beauty of that space.

The garden provides Dimitri with a space in order to go to and reflect, as well as a place to let all the passionate feelings find some sort of solace.  Even though, this Karamazov is far from being a monk, he lets his good spirit guide him which saves him from ever committing an act such as killing his father.  The right for Dimitri to choose the deformed natural world his is prerogative and shows Dostoevsky’s belief in free will.  Some people may try to believe that God will save humankind from undergoing earthly ruin by global warming, each man can do as his own spiritual guide informs him. During Dimitri’s long confession he tells Alyosha, “Oh, to hell with it, it’s all the same, whatever it is. Strong spirit, weak spirit, woman’s spirit – whatever it is! Let us praise nature: see how the sun shine, how clear the sky is, the leaves are all green…. So, calm…” (104).  Though Dimitri is not denying this spirit he carries and feels so greatly, without proper care and understanding about the intention of all that passionate energy in a similar fashion ends up blowing up.  Due to Dimitri’s obsession with the earthly world, he misdirects the energy given to him, much like his father, which lead to imprisonment on his part despite the fact that he was innocent of murder.

The passions that are depicted in The Brothers Karamazov are like the human fingerprint, they are all different from each other, not a single one alike.  Even though their passions and feelings take on various forms, they all have a sort of mystic power which surrounds the Karamazov family.  There are other powers and feeling at work that move society forward.  Ivan is caught up in his belief in the modern progress of an industrial society but because of his hard criticism of the possibility of religious life and a place outside of that consumer society he has to reject the very power that wants to lead him.  With the rejection of what for the most part Dostoevsky intends to be positive in origins and with the rejection of love for the natural world in his push for a more ‘modern’ society, a certain madness and diabolical mysticism over takes Ivan’s life.  This contrast very much from the sort of connectedness that Alyosha allows himself to feel in relation to other living things and even though he is not perfect by any means, he is sent down to modern society as a guide, as a way to lead people with faltering faith back into the conversation about the meaning of active love and a meaningful life.  There is a certain divine mysticism that shrouds Alyosha’s being, for everyone loves and respects Alyosha’s intentions.  Then with Dimitri lies in the middle of the fight between his spiritual self and the earthly luxuries.  He is representative of everyone’s right to choose their own path in the new society being formed, but the path in which one may decide to walk in may have large lasting affects in their lives.  Dimitri’s love for passionate outbursts leads almost everyone in the novel to believe that it was him that killed his own father.  By the end of the novel he finds a sort of spiritual solace and comfort in both his experiences, Grushenka, a dream and Alyosha.  The conflict in the novel is deep and spiritually ingrained in each of these characters, much like the conflicts that were arising at the turn of the century, during Dostoevsky’s time, left marks and changes on the upcoming society.  Everyone was split by their own sort of passion and Karamazov is in hope that they can find a way together once again (Murav 128).  At the end of the novel, Alyosha says to the little boy Koyla after he asked Alyosha whether everyone would reunite again in the afterlife; “Certainly we shall rise, certainly we shall see and gladly, joyfully tell one another all that has been.”


Chaucer’s The Man of Law’s Tale Constance as the Human Guide

The trees are no longer nymphs and goods but stagnant things to be used and consumed in to build our houses and make the paper in which we write on, void of all life; the seventeenth century saw the transformation of the idea of nature from something that is not of material substance into a territory. Medieval literary scholar, Sarah Stanbury, claims that during this time nature became a “commodity whose relationship to human was defined by its uses whether those involves preservation, consumption of destruction” (4-5).  In the Man of Law’s Tale, Constance’s elvish characteristics and deep connections to her faith associate her with the natural world which reminds a modern audience about the link of the human spirit to nature because in today’s society people have closed all parts porous parts in order to live in a disenchanted place.  Chaucer wrote the Canterbury tales with a single philosophical question in mind “the nature and spiritual effect of love” (Gardner 11).  In this tale and in others, he depicts a force of nature that has its own spirit and power outside of its physical form.  Often times the way in which the natural world interacts with the characters is representative of their moral being. Chaucer’s work ties together spirituality and the way in which nature loves one who has faith in the Christian God, as in Constance’s instance. Constance is awarded a certain elvish power and certain characteristics as a mother that connects her with a world outside of the human one.  By the end of the story, Constance represents nature itself providing readers with a metaphor for the treatment of nature. For a modern reader, Chaucer’s depiction of nature requires a deep understanding that it has a life outside its potential for human usage.  The rivers have been poisoned by fracking because people need oil, fish are dying, elephants are being killed for ivory, the ice caps that have existed for thousands of years are beginning to melt due to the incapability of humans to stop eating beef and all these things that humans continue to exploit will only come back to haunt us one hot day.

In Chaucer’s medieval society, all living things plants and animals alike had a spiritual essence, which can be seen from the very beginning of his great poems.  The different components of Spring are different active components.  “Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote”, and “Whan Zephirus” are invoked in these first eighteen-line sentence personifies the season not only by referring to it the time as a person but also by calling upon mythologies in order to provide action in the springtime description.  It is not something that is stagnant but something that has some agency.  Stanbury also discusses how the springtime acts as a force that awakens within humankind and encourages them to go on a pilgrimage (11).  Nature depicted in this way is meant to be considered a part of the living and human community, something in which people should be interacting with.  The medieval sense of nature held a sense of energy within it and a powerful landscape emphasized a more connected sense of community (Siewers 14).  The natural world is an active thing that can provide people with inspiration and answers to deeper questions within themselves. The reason for the entire journey then lies in the hands of the nature world and thus none of the story would be possible without the acts of nature.  The community of storytellers is then created as these people from different walks of life engage in each other’s’ mind during this pilgrimage. In other words, the story would have never occurred had not the Springtime had not hit and instilled in people a want to go on a religious pilgrimage.

When the groundhog springs from hibernations and the flowers begin to bloom, the world seems to come to live after the harshness of a cold winter, people seem to be joyful with the new life.  In this way nature’s vulnerability to the world of spirit that allows it to be influential and a motivator of action. Similarly, The Man of Law’s tale would have never occurred had it not been for the power of Constance. This initial description of Constance had they never been revealed or been known to all of Rome, then the tale would have never occurred:  “Oure Emperour of Rome — God hym see! — …To rekene as wel hir goodnesse as beautee, /Nas nevere swich another as is shee. / I prey to God in honour hire susteene,/ And wolde she were of al Europe the queene” (The Man of Law’s Tale, 157-161).  Constance is like the groundhog in spring, the whole story one waits to hear about her story.  Had she been completely average she would have been living in Rome all her life.  While in Italy, Constance is loved and pious but she is still living in a closed world, just like Ivan was in the Karamazov.  Rome before her departure was just like any other, growing middle class culture and a noble society that indulges in luxuries.  Constance’s life could have been easy, but due to her grace she was the action piece needed to remove Rome from the obsession of things.  Constance is more than just the heroine of the story because the characteristics that define her are not of the common human but she is set apart from the rest of society. This establishes her as a being above the normal expectations of common folk. She is associated with a more heavenly form. Constance’s entrance upon Chaucer’s tale gives her a “Christian otherworldliness thus is identified with a native pre-Norman elvishness, and also with a type of Christianity linked to a mythical native Celtic Christianity…” (Siewers 112).  The elvish characteristics that Chaucer attaches to Constance, prepares her for a more spiritual journey as she leaves Rome for the first time in what some might call fights decision to change the course of Rome forever.

The late medieval times saw the first real production of a more modernistic society.  The mediaeval times saw the production of “mediaeval realism” which between nominalism and the rise of a mechanistic science, saw an increase in the belief in human agency (Taylor 773).  Constance may be an agent in the story but she does not have control over the rest of her journey, her demeanor merely starts it.  In this beginning section, some of the qualities that were associated with her being are characteristics that are common of a holy being: “To alle hire werkes vertu is hir gyde;

…Hir herte is verray chambre of hoolynesse,/ Hir hand, ministre of fredam for almesse.”

(The Man of Law’s Tale 162-168).  In this further description of Constance, the reader begins to associate her with a true vision of perfection, of someone who deserves praise and prayers to be done unto her.  This initial description of Constance begins the parallels that she has with the Hail Holy Queen and with another worldly connection, elves.  Elves are often associated with the power to “inflict mind-altering ailments” (Hall 243).  It is this particular elvish quality within her that begins to impact those she does not even begin to know; “Of the Emperoures doghter, dam Custance,/ Reported was, with every circumstance,/ Unto these Syrian merchants…” (Man of Law’s; 151-153). For it is solely by word of mouth from the Syrian merchants that the faraway Sultan dreams of having her divine-ness as a wife, which essentially sense her on her own journey.  He even decides to change his religion and baptize himself due to Constance’s reputation and this is based solely on a description of a person that he had never met, but her connection to a spiritual Christianity precedes her. Even though these initial descriptions of Constance and actions that surround her give her agency within the parameters of the tale, it is because she is written a deep spiritual connection with the spiritual world, thus trying to encourage people that if they develop a similar sense of spirituality they will also acquire agency bestowed by a higher being.

With any amount of power and agency within a story comes long lessons and journey.  Much like Odysseus, it seemed as if Constance was stuck at sea for many years away from family and solace, for twice was Constance put through a long trail in the sea, and during those times of her floating in the sea for years at a time. “Yeres and dayes fleet this creature… Men myghten asken why she was nat slayn Eek at the feeste? Who myghte hit body save? (The Man of Law’s Tale 463, 470-471). These are the rhetorical questions that might have been floating in the depths of a reader’s mind upon hearing this tale, well The Man of Law answers them for us.  He brings us back to the Christian answer referring us to the different miracles that God preforms in Biblical readings.  These trips into the sea is the way in which Constance detaches herself from earthly evils.  Despite the fact that these are wrongs done onto her, they are functioning like tests of faith, to which she resigns herself with faith that the Lord will take care of her.  It is this resignation that provides her with a truly spiritual nature. “This departure saves [her] from the idolatry of being, vanity, non-existence, and we gain that being which truly exists” (Tatakēs 113).”  Since much of mediaeval Europe at the moment is beginning a trend where the belief in human agency is taking hold, Chaucer is attempting to reign it back and remind people where the true guide to leadership lies.  Constance was previously in a position of being praised like a Goddess, everyone attached to her only things that were positive, which could have led to a creation of an idol within herself.   Earlier in the paper, it was stated that the buffered self looks to oneself for the answers of the meaning of life (Taylor 37).  Even though Charles Taylor admits that at this time, people were still God-fearing enough to minimize the anthropocentric consciousness, which by the 18th century Enlightenment was running full-fledged (301).  The months and years that Constance spent in the sea is the spiritual world accepting it into the Green World and thus a heightening her spiritual self as she is floating in the sea in a sort of meditated state. When Constance then came upon this first land her transformative power takes effect.

Once the world lost track of her existence as she moved in the Green World out in the ocean, did she make her way back.  In an unknown land, she landed to do the spiritual will of her divine being.  At this point in the tale, she is also given power of the nature world through God. For Constance, “Wolde hire for Jhesu Cristes love han slayn,” (The Man of Law’s Tale 565). This complete dedication to her faith allowed her to perform a miracle through prayer to the old blind man. This was expletory of the type of spirituality and natural power that comes with complete faith. This single act allows her to mend the spirituality of the King, who later became her husband. It is through this mean that she is allowed to convert the king to believe in the Christian God. “Constance embodies a different type of sovereignty figure, still within a tradition likely adapted typologically by its monastic literary compliers, related both to traditions of the Mother of God… and the feminine figuring of biblical wisdom” (6 Siewers 112). This is in agreement with ecofeminist scholar Ruether that Christian system left a very ambivalent view of women, as either a seductress or as closer to the spiritual realm provided they are freed from subordination, which will only occur if they had rejected a certain amount of sexuality (161).  Constance throughout her multiple trials is a clear showcase for Biblical wisdom during times of tribulations. She is placed in situations that she herself cannot control and thus just hopes that it will work out for the best.

This attitude is one that is taken up by the Holy Mother who according to scripture trusted in God, in the moment that she agreed to be the mother of the Savior, and in the moment, that she witnessed her Son die on the cross (Luke 1:26-28 && John 19: 25-27).  In this tale, Constance is tried once more sent off into the sea, but this time with her just born babe.

“Hir litel child lay wepyng in hir arm,

And knelynge, pitously to hym she seyde,

“Pees, litel sone, I wol do thee noon harm.”

With that hir coverchief of hir heed she breyde,

And over his litel eyen she it leyde,

And in hir arm she lulleth it ful faste,

And into hevene hire eyen up she caste.”

(Man of Law’s Tale 834-840)


This image her brings up a popular image of Madonna and Child. She and her son are being exiled into sea yet again with only faith to save them. Although it may seem to some people the constant adversity to which she faces and simply accepts as truth may be seen as passive and going against the agency that links her to the same springtime agency that Chaucer links to nature in the beginning prologue, the agency that belongs to the natural and spiritual world, it does in fact like with her.

No one who has violence in this tale can hold that spiritual connection within them. For as Tatakēs states, that once the body reaches a holy quietness of body and soul then the only thing left to do is to be united with God (114). In that understanding of the holy wisdom does Constance in her unbound wilderness in the sea does she turn to prayer.

“Mooder,” quod she, “and mayde bright, Marie,

Sooth is that thurgh wommanes eggement

Mankynde was lorn, and damned ay to dye,

For which thy child was on a croys yrent.

Thy blisful eyen sawe al his torment;

Thanne is ther no comparison bitwene

Thy wo and any wo man may sustene”

(Man of Law’s Tale 841-847)


Constance calls upon the holy mother to bring her to safety. There is very little that Constance can control about the situation but one thing that she is vastly aware of is that she has the power to have a greater being always at her side and indeed the heaven’s do travel with Constance and keep her from death and rape during her journey. “The primal image of [Constance] in a rudderless boat in the sea reinforces her unknowable, anarchic power” (Robertson 161).  Constance is the agent of the novel. Again, and again, do bad things occur to her despite the fact that she is undeserving of those being subjected to much violence. However not once to those violent agitators in her life ever begin to hold complete power over her. This is because of this power, this elvish quality that Constance seems to hold. The green world has coated Constance with a layer of protection that keeps Constance faithful and those she meets (for the most part) trustworthy of her. While Constance is a symbol of non-violent strength and spirituality the truth of the matter is, there are moments within the novel where she is in need of assistance from the real world.  For though she goes off to sea and seemingly into another dimension she always comes back to this earth.  The first time she lands on the shore she is described as broken: “ To seen this wrak, and al the ship he soghte,/In hir langage mercy she bisoghte,/The lyf out of hir body for to twynne,/ Hire to delivere of wo that she was inne.” (Man of Law’s Tale 512-518).  The broken body on the shore becomes indicative of how much physical and mental toll that spiritual emergence to the green world can have impact on a single human being.  Her begging for an end to her life, shows that she needs the physical world to process the experience she’s had in the green world out at sea.  The goal of a human being should not be to find the green world itself, to renounce all life into nothing-ness but rather to understand the position of human obsession and idolatry is prominent among human beings and learn to see aspects of the green world in everyday life.  In addition, this scene, shows the transformation of Constance into the sand on the beach, she has connected truly with the spiritual world, that it becomes a part of her. Chaucer shows us with the very character of Constance how mankind should be in treatment of the earth.      Consider the biblical teaching saying that mankind had dominion of the natural world and that they are made in God’s image, then there is indeed a certain amount of agency within mankind (Genesis 1). This agency is given to mankind for the chore of taken care of the church. God and the holy spirit take care of Constance due to her deep connectivity with not only himself but with nature, in the same way that God expected mankind to care for his earth. Though Chaucer wrote in the medieval times it does not fail to apply to today’s society.  When looking at the character of Constance from the Man of Law’s tale one can easily associate her with not only a spiritual being but one who is connected with nature so much so that she begins to a part of a deeper natural world. It is her deep understanding of her faith that allows her that closeness to the earth which sends her on her journeys in the sea, which detaches her from normal society. This detachment from society provides her to be the perfect parallel for this dying earth in need of care. In this day in age, many have lost the ability to be connected to nature, and thus according to Byzantine Mysticism it our “intensive duty to turn back, to find the initial condition of man, or better realize within himself the nature which God gave him.” (Tatakēs 120). Not all people have the same devotedness of this fictional character in Chaucer’s tale, nor does one need to be Christian to understand that there was once a time where the earth was believed to have agency among humankind due to a sort of reverence and respect that was given to it. It had the right to life just as humans do. Thus, take a lesson from Chaucer’s tale, and reach out to protect the dying earth of today.



The secular age in which we live in can be detrimental to the way in which we interact.  People can often be left emotionally void, forgetting to look outside their windows to the great big earth that is surrounding them.  Even modern cities have been attempting to look at green infrastructure, greenhouses and expansion of parks within the city lines in order to provide those people with exposure to the natural world.  Charles Taylor asked “What does it mean to say that we live in the secular age?” He expanded to say that in a modern secular society you can engage in a lot of things without encountering a God which leaves this age in search for something spiritual to take its place” (Taylor 1-4).  Every time in history that there seems to be a change in the rhythm of society, it seems as if people need to reevaluate what it means to be human, to live in a space outside of themselves and yet the separation of human people with the rest of the living world has increasingly died away in Western Culture.  In the late medieval times, the creation of the middle class created a whole strain of scholars terrified that people would lose touch with their spirituality.  Chaucer sent Constance through an entire green world, taxing her body and spirit in order to prove the strength and benefits that come with that kind of life.  For Modern Readers, the strain on Constance’s body becomes earth itself, time and time again almost ravished by the evils of humans.  The care that is bestowed upon her by the higher powers is like the Christian God leaving humans in charge of taking care of the earth.  The earth deserves a happy ending, but no one is keeping to the illusion that it will be only a short time span before she arrives, but years of hardships in the sea.  Those who dare to let themselves fall into looking to the Green World, to looking at a world beyond their own tend to do well in literature.  In “The Brothers Karamazov”, Alyosha looks to the earth to help him sort out his problems of the heart.  In a moment of desperation and madness, he climbed down to the wet earth and bestowed it love, and thus it loved back.  While Ivan, attempted to repress every spiritual bone in his body, and not once did he appear in a land of bushes and flowers, eventually the need and deep desire for recognition of that part of his soul, tore his mind apart.  The green world can be vengeful, it has agency.  The real earth is also vengeful, if we continue to destroy her, she also will destroy us back.  It’s pitiful to see the sand filled with memories of oil spills and thousands of dead and suffocated fishes. The ozone depleting, and the rivers poisoned.  Chaucer and Karamazov call to the modern reader and ask them, go camping, breathe in the air, live.


Works Cited

Carey, John, et al. Re-imagining nature: environmental humanities and ecosemiotics.          Ed. Alfred Kentigern Siewers. Bucknell University Press, 2013.

Dostoevsky, F. “The Brothers Karamazov, transl. by R.” Pevear, L. Volokhonsky, Farrar,         Straus and Giroux, New York (2002).

Edwards, Paul N. “Cyberpunks in cyberspace: the politics of subjectivity in the computer age.” The Sociological Review 42.S1 (1994): 69-84.

Flath, Carol A. “The passion of Dmitrii Karamazov.” Slavic Review 58.3 (1999): 584-599.

Frye, Northrop. “The argument of comedy.” Narrative Dynamics: Essays on Time, Plot, Closure, and Frames (2002): 102.

Hall, Alaric. “Elves on the Brain: Chaucer, Old English, and elvish.” Anglia-Zeitschrift      für englische Philologie 124.2 (2006): 225-243.

Murav, Harriet. Holy foolishness: Dostoevsky’s novels & the poetics of cultural critique. Stanford University Press, 1992.

Robertson, Elizabeth. “The” Elvyssh” Power of Constance: Christian Feminism in        Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Man of Law’s Tale.” Studies in the Age of Chaucer        23.1 (2001): 143-180.

Radford Ruether, Rosemary. “Ecofeminism: Symbolic and social connections of the      oppression of women and the domination of nature.” Feminist Theology 3.9     (1995):  35-50.

Palat, Madhavan K. “The Grand Inquisitor and the Holy Fool.” (2014).

Powers, William. Hamlet’s blackberry. HarperCollins, 2010.

Gardner, John. Life and Times of Chaucer. Barnes & Noble Publishing, 1977.

Siewers, Alfred K. “6 Ecopoetics and the Origins of English Literature.” Environmental         Criticism for the Twenty-First Century (2011): 105-120.

Stanbury, Sarah. “Ecochaucer: Green Ethics and Medieval Nature.” The Chaucer    Review 39.1 (2004): 1-16.

Stoeber, Michael. “Mysticism in The Brothers Karamazov.” Toronto Journal of        Theology 31.2 (2015): 249-271.

Tatakēs, Vasileios N. Christian Philosophy in the Patristic and Byzantine Tradition. Ed. George Dion Dragas. Orthodox Research Institute, 2007.

Taylor, Charles. “Buffered and porous selves.” The Immanent Frame RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Apr. 2017.

Taylor, Charles. A secular age. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard U Pr, 2007. Print.


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