Essay on Chaucer's Canterbury Tales - Sin in The Pardoner's Tale

Essay on Chaucer's Canterbury Tales - Sin in The Pardoner's Tale

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Importance of Sin in The Pardoner's Tale


There are seven deadly sins that, once committed, diminish the prospect of eternal life and happiness in heaven. They are referred to as deadly because each sin is closely linked to another, leading to other greater sins.  The seven deadly sins are pride, envy, anger, sloth, gluttony, avarice, and lechery. Geoffrey Chaucer's masterpiece, The Canterbury Tales, provided an excellent story about the deadly sins. Focusing mainly on the sins of pride, gluttony and greed, the characters found in The Canterbury Tales, particularly The Pardoner's Tale, were so overwhelmed by their earthly desires and ambitions that they failed to see the effects of their sinful actions, therefore depriving themselves of salvation.


Gluttony is defined as the over-indulgence of food and drink. The pardoner said that gluttony was the sin that corrupted the world. The first form of gluttony is drunkenness. Drunkenness is sinful because man loses his ability to reason. The three men were guilty of gluttony when they over indulged in wine at the tavern that eventually led to swearing and lechery.  The pardoner claimed that drunkenness played a big role when Lot committed incest with two of his daughters. Drunkenness had influenced Herod's decision when he ordered John, the Baptist beheaded. Gluttony was unknowingly committed in these two examples leading to incest and murder. The pardoner, however, did not practice what he preached. He couldn't proceed with his exemplum until he had something to drink.


The pardoner was a proud man. While others were not as educated as he was, the pardoner spoke in Latin to show off his linguistic ability. His failure to practice what he preached made him a model of hypocrisy and deceit. The pardoner was such a bragger that he boasted of the sins that he had done. "I spit out my venom under the color of holiness, to seem holy and true"(page 343). The pardoner admitted to his astonishing behavior and confessed to his immorality. His shameless confession indicated that he was guilty of foolishness: I preach, as you have just heard, and tell a hundred other intention is to win money, not at all to cast out sins (page 343).

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Throughout his story, the pardoner makes himself to be a righteous man, but he does not follow even his own teachings. Anger is found in him when the host makes a joke on him in the epilogue. Also found in the pardoner is slothfulness. The pardoner displayed no desire to work with his own hands. He admits his distaste for poverty and expressed his preference to live in luxury. An arrogant attitude is a barrier in achieving a genuine and honest relationship between people. In fact, pride drives others to commit the sins of envy.


Radix malorum est cupiditas- The love of money is the root of all evil. The three men became avaricious and lecherous when they found eight bushels of gold under an oak tree.  As a result, two men decided to plot a murder against the other man who went to town to get food and drink.  However, they were unaware that he had evil intentions of his own.  He had purchased three bottles of wine and poured rat poison into two of them for the other two men. When he returned to the oak tree, the two men stabbed him to death.  Unaware that the wine had been tainted with poison, the two men drank the poisoned wine and died as well.  The sins of greed and lust lead to evil.  The three men were so concerned with their earthly desires for wealth and envious of each other that they failed to "see" death.   


The characters found in The Pardoner's Tale were so concerned with their earthly desires and possessions that they failed to acknowledge the existence of the afterlife.  They were oblivious to the fact that sin would determine their ultimate destiny.  The Pardoner's Tale is a direct extension of the personality of the narrator. It is a shameless tale, a criticism of greed that comes from the greediness of its narrator; by rebuking sin, the Pardoner hopes to motivate the travelers to pay the Pardoner to forgive their sins. The character of the Pardoner is omni-present throughout the tale. Throughout the tale the narrator drifts in and out from the story, as the Pardoner occasionally leaves the plot of the tale to launch into sermons against sin. Finally, at the conclusion of the tale, he reveals the justification for his intervening, preaching against avarice for the sole intention of selling phony relics to the travelers.

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