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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.