Essay on Chaucer's Canterbury Tales - Power of the Pardoner's Tale

Essay on Chaucer's Canterbury Tales - Power of the Pardoner's Tale

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The Power of the Pardoner's Tale

    Geoffrey Chaucer was a author of the 12th century.  Chaucer is

known as the father of English poetry.  He wrote Canterbury Tales which is

a collection of narrative short stories written in verse.  "The Pardoners

Tale" is among the more popular of these varied tales.  It is told by a

pardoner who uses the story to preach against those who are blastfamous and

gluttonous.  In an odd twist, after he tells the story he trys to sell

others counterfiet relics.  In this short story about greed, disrespect

and death Chaucer utilizes three important literary tools personification,

irony, and symbolism.


      In the tale by Chaucer Personification is utilized on the character

of Death.  When a young boy is asked what happened to a man who had just

died he responds in saying "There came a sneaking thief that men call

Death, who slays all the people in this country, and with his spear he

struck his heart in two, then went his way without saying another word."

They show there feelings by pledging to each other to murder death.  "Let

each of us hold up his hand to this false traitor Death.  He that slays so

many shall be slain himself before nightfall."


      In "The Pardoners Tale" personification is employed to make Death a

person instead of a process.  Death is given human characteristics to make

him more real to us.  This tool allows the main characters to focus their

feelings.With the use of personification the three men are allowed to

focus their feelings of vengence on a person instead of a biological



       Another tool that was heavily relied on was irony.  There are many

examples used to show irony in the story.  The old man sends the three

drunkards down a path where he says death is, however, a pot of gold

awaits them there instead.  "If your so anxious to find Death, turn up this

crooked path; for in that grove I left him, by my faith, under a tree, and

there he'll stay."  The irony in this event is that the three men who were

ready to kill Death totally forget about him once the gold is found.

After the three villians find the gold they send one into town for supplies.

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 During the absence of the villian who went into town, one of the others

suggest the murder of the absent one to increase there share of the money.

"You are well aware that you're my sworn brother.  I'll you something that

will profit you. . . you know very well that there are two of us, and two

are stronger than one.  Watch him when he sits down, then get up and go for

him in jest, and I'll stab him. . ."This villian plans to kill a man he

has just sworn to brotherhood only to increase his finacial gain.

Instead of trying to find Death and kill them they relax and without even

knowing it they find Death upon them..


      Irony has many uses it can be used to teach or to humor us.  The

irony in this story is used to teach a lesson. The use of irony is very

important to the moral of the story.  It shows us that Death is impossible

to escape.  It may also add that we have no control over our lives that

everything that happens is set.


      This particular tale is very symbolic.  Symbolism is the

representation of one thing for another.  The path that the old man send

the three men down is crooked.  This is used to show that the path they

are taking is evil or sinful.  When they reach the grove the gold is under

a tree. "Every one of these rioters ran until he came to that tree, and

there they found it, it seemd to them, nearly eight bushels of fine gold

florins."  The tree could be a representation of the tree in the garden of

eden and the gold of the apple in the garden.  The most important form of

symbolism is that of the symbolism of Death.  I believe Death is

symbolized by one character in the story, the old man.  The old man seems

to have magnificent powers that are superhuman.  It seems to be more than

just being a "wise old man."    "Because I can't find anyone. . . that will

change his youth for may age; and so I must keep my age as long as it's

God's will.  Not even Death, alas, will have my life.  Thus I walk like a

restless prisoner, and on the ground, which is my mothers gate."  He is

imortal, forced to wonder the earth forever much like Death.  He also

refers to the earth as his mother which may mean mother nature was his

mother, again similar to Death.  Even though he refers to death as another

person this may only infer that even he would not have his life.


      In retrospect, Geoffrey Chaucer exploited many different literary

forms to create a cohesive story line.  Personification is used to focus

our feelings on the character of Death as a living being rather than a

process.   Chaucer use irony to teach a lesson to the readers.  Symbolism

is used to relate the lesson to our lives.   With these factors all

combined it creates a story which we can relate to even today because

greed is universal.


Works Cited and Consulted

Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Pardoner's Prologue and Tale. In The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. M.H. Abrams et al. 6th ed. 1 vol. New York: Norton. 1:164-178.

French, Robert Dudley. A Chaucer Handbook, 2nd ed. New York: Appleton Century Crofts Inc., 1955.
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