Gargantua and Pantagruel

Gargantua and Pantagruel Essay Questions

  1. 1

    How does Rabelais’s satirical lens portray certain social structures, such as the church, the legal system, or the institution of marriage?

    In terms of the legal system, Rabelais’s satirical lens focuses on the madness of frivolous lawsuits. Panurge use these cases as part of his scams to make money, and these types of legal disputes have created the vocation of the despised catchpoles. Rabelais also points out nonsensical aspects of the legal system, especially with the tale of how Pantagruel solves a court case so convoluted that even the highest legal authorities in the land could not make sense of the matter.

  2. 2

    Explain how Rabelais’s use of Latin and references to antiquity implies a particular type of audience.

    If a writer uses significant amounts of any foreign language, it means they expect their reader to already be familiar with that language. At the time of publication, which types of audience would have been familiar with Latin and stories of antiquity? Certainly the upper classes and the more educated groups, such as the clergy, would have understood these topics and languages, but these were small, niche audiences. Consider socioeconomic factors related to this particular niche audience and how that correlates to Rabelais’s potential preferred audience.

  3. 3

    In Book Three, Pantagruel and Panurge exchange their opinions on debtors and lenders. Discuss how their opinions promote and/or criticize the ideals of capitalism and socialism.

    Consider the discussion between Pantagruel and Panurge from a Marxist perspective. How do the ideas of debt and money lending play into the social power structure that Marxists often argue against? Or, since the power structure of the Renaissance was changing and giving the merchant class more power, discuss how the capitalist practices of money lending, credit, and debt would affect society in relationship to Pantagruel and Panurge’s discussion.

  4. 4

    How does the portrayal of Gargantua and Pantagruel as giants affect how their characters interact and change throughout the five books?

    In the first two books, Gargantua and Pantagruel’s enormous size plays a significant factor in the plot lines of the story. Yet in the last three books, their size does not seem to matter or affect the storylines at all. Discuss this discrepancy and the possible reasons behind it.

  5. 5

    In many ways, Panurge represents both a good and evil character. Discuss the purpose of such a psychologically complex and morally ambiguous character within the story, especially as the foil to Pantagruel.

    As a good and noble prince, Pantagruel must always appear as the agent of good, so having his best friend be a deceitful antihero may make Pantagruel look all the better by comparison. In addition, Rabelais writes the story as a satire, not a cautionary tale, so someone has to perform lewd acts. Consider reasons why Rabelais would have Pantagruel’s closest companion perform these immoral acts instead of having one of Pantagruel’s enemies performing such deeds.

  6. 6

    How does the lack of a female presence affect the narrative?

    Female characters within the story are kept in very specific places, such as those associated with children or religion. Address how this placement of women affects the male characters, and how the separation from women also separates these men from the feminized spaces. Consider the act of naming characters and discuss why so many male characters receive names, yet so few female characters are named.

  7. 7

    How does the satire construct the Renaissance perspective on marriage?

    Consider how the story shows or fails to show the lives of married couples. What aspects of marriage are shown in the story, and which aspects are ignored? Specifically in the third book, marriage is discussed namely in its connection with cuckoldry, so examine how the fear of being cuckolded affects the viewpoint of marriage in the social consciousness of Renaissance audiences.

  8. 8

    Compare and contrast Gargantua’s early adventurers with the adventures of his son, Pantagruel.

    Both the first and second book share similar format structures, particularly in how they depict each main character’s early childhood, education, familial relationships, and military prowess. Compare the differences in how Gargantua and Pantagruel deal with the challenges of growing up and making friends. Analyze Gargantua’s circle of friends in comparison to Pantagruel circle of friends.

  9. 9

    Discuss the relationship between nature and the actions of Gargantua, Pantagruel, and/or their companions.

    There is a lot of grotesque imagery in relationship to how the characters capture animals to make food. Some characters, such as Panurge, are brutal to animals for no reason, and their brutality is never punished. As the characters travel, they seem to face the most challenges while traveling by sea and having to deal with extreme weather conditions or ocean dwelling creatures. Pantagruel is even described as having a microcosm world within his mouth, which creates a peculiar relationship between man and nature.

  10. 10

    The main secondary characters within this narrative provide a range of quirky personalities that work well to support the protagonists in such a satiric adventure story. Analyze one or more of these characters and discuss their functions within the narrative.

    Two of the strongest secondary characters throughout all five books would be Friar John and Panurge. Friar John represents the clergy, but more specifically he is a monk, which gives him license to act brash and, at times, lewd. The narrator describes Panurge as a loyal friend, but a degenerate man nonetheless. These two characters constantly butt heads in the narrative, which affects how the main characters and other secondary characters interact.