Chaucer introduces the reader to the Merchant within ‘The Merchant’s Prologue’ and ‘Portrait of the Merchant’. Chaucer immediately establishes the first person description, which creates the impression that there are more direct opinions in the text. He constructs the idea of a fine figure that appears to be wealthy and successful, he does this by providing a vivid description of his appearance. The merchant is depicted as being smartly dressed, which suggests he is a person of some importance, “Upon his heed a Flaundrish bever hat”. However it is soon exposed that this is just a mask to disguise who he really is.
The posture he has while sat on his horse highlights the dignified feeling he has about himself, “In mottelee, and high on horse he sat;” Once his true self is revealed, this posture actually seems to resemble arrogance. His desire to appear fashionable is effective, but when the reader becomes aware of his business, which deals in French currency, the whole impression he creates is contradicted. He may be dignified in his conduct but he is in debt, “So estatly was he of his governaunce”, this is frowned on by the Church, so he is obviously a secular man.
Chaucer creates irony by making a point of describing the merchant as ‘worthy’ twice, he is hardly ‘worthy’ if he has an illegal business. Chaucer adds irony again when he claims, “But, sooth to seyn, I noot how men him calle”, this emphasises that he is the complete opposite of worthy and is actually quit insignificant. He indicates that the merchant speaks his mind and will give his impressions willingly, “His reasons he spak ful solempnely”.
However, he insists on discussing his wife, “I have a wyf, the worste that may be;”He talks selectively of his ‘winnings’ and conceals the fact he is in debt, which is seen as dishonest. Chaucer intends to insults the merchant, as the merchant deceives other pilgrims into believing that he is a completely different person and Chaucer acknowledges the reader of his secret life, “Ther wiste no wight that he was in dette”.
Chaucer may have a particular merchant in mind when writing it and he may be inviting the reader to guess his name, so he may be writing of a person he knows and generally dislikes.