The Languages of Labor in the Works of John Gower

Sarah O'Brien, Fordham University


The object in writing this thesis is to explore Gower's attitudes towards work in the Mirour de l'Homme and Confessio Amantis and evaluate the importance of these ideas to his body of work as whole, particularly, how his moral aesthetic informs his ideas about the place of people within society, how profession constructs identity, and his longing for a lost ideal. Estate theory seems to take for granted that texts within the genre have certain ideas about the estates place in the world without questioning the origin of these views. My goal will be to use a close reading of the texts and attention to context to answer these questions. In addition to the main texts in question, Vox Clamantis will be referenced due to its relevance but cannot be treated in full because of the limitations of space in the present study. Likewise Chaucer and Langland will be referenced as they play an equally important role in constructing fourteenth century social satire but their contributions are not a major focus. The interplay between micro and macro, the individual and universal morality, is crucial to the structure and meaning of Gower's major works. Therefore, to study Gower's work it seems appropriate to use a similar methodology. In the first chapter of this thesis, I will begin with the micro level and examine how Gower's attitudes towards labor and profession can be seen in his lexical choices and what conclusions can be drawn from this. In the second chapter, I will broaden my focus to consider how Gower's urban context may affect his perception of labor and the ways in which London impacts his writing. Ultimately, I feel that a better understanding of Gower's ideas about labor can lead to a somewhat more sympathetic reading of his work, especially the Mirour and Vox Clamantis, which in turn can open new fields of inquiry. Labor/profession is one of the integral ways that Gower connects the individual soul with the structure of the world using estates topoi to order society. Gower's depiction of labor is therefore important to the meaning of his works and to better understanding how he perceives his world.

Subject Area

Medieval literature|British and Irish literature

Recommended Citation

O'Brien, Sarah, "The Languages of Labor in the Works of John Gower" (2014). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI1601538.