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The Pardoner as Symbol in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales Essay

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The Pardoner as Symbol for the Pilgrims’ Unattainable Goals in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales


Geoffrey Chaucer’s work, The Canterbury Tales, paints a portrait of medieval life through the voices and stories of a wide variety of speakers. The people on the Pilgrimage tell their stories for a wide range of reasons. Each Tale is told in order to accomplish two things. The Tales provoke their audience as much as they are a kind of self-reflection. These reactions range from humor, to extreme anger, to open admiration. Each story is symbolic for a meaning above the actual plot of the narrative itself. The theme of social and moral balance is one theme which ties every character and Tale together. The character of the Pardoner exemplifies this ideal. By embodying imagery of balance in his character and in his story, the Pardoner becomes a symbol for the Pilgrims’ unattainable goal of spiritual and moral balance.

All the characters in The Canterbury Tales are on a pilgrimage. Their physical journey takes them to the cathedral at Canterbury, to visit the shrine of a former archbishop, Thomas a Becket. When their stories are looked at allegorically, the pilgrimage takes on a new meaning. Beyond a physical journey, these Pilgrims engage their minds and thoughts upon a symbolic journey. The subjects of their stories vary widely, but common to all is the desire for self-knowledge and understanding. The Knight’s Tale, with its emphasis on courtly love and chivalric ideals, is a portrayal of the changes happening within the higher classes of medieval English society. The drunken Miller shows his anger towards the aristocracy by telling a parody of the Knight’s Tale. The Pardoner’s Tale tells the story of three young men who wa...


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...omes a way of reconciling the unbalanced portions of human experience in order to promote growth in the face of sin and death.

Works Cited and Consulted

Ames, Ruth M. God’s Plenty Chaucer’s Christian Humanism. Loyola University Press: Chicago, 1984.

Chaucer, Geoffrey. "The Pardoner’s Tale." The Canterbury Tales: Nine Tales and the General Prologue. Ed. V.A. Kolve. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1989.

Colby, Elbridge. Chaucer’s Christian Morality. The Bruce Publishing Company: Milwaukee, 1936.

Ellis, Roger. Patterns of Religious Narrative in the Canterbury Tales. Banes & Noble: Totowa, 1986.

Patterson, Lee. "Redemption in Chaucer's Pardoner’s Tale.” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies. Durham; Fall 2001. 507-560

Reiff, Raychel Haugrud. “Chaucer’s The Pardoner’s Tale.” The Explicator. Washington, Summer 1999. 855-58


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