Canterbury Tales Theme Analysis

When discussing any story and talking about its structure, the question on whether or not a story is good or not tends to pop up. Now while people’s opinion on a story can change from person to person, the criteria needed to judge said story stays the same. Some of the criteria includes on how a story handles their characters or whether or not setting was used well. But the one we will be discussing today is whether or not a story uses its themes to the fullest. And this statement can’t be more true than with Chaucer’s own Canterbury Tales, more specifically, the Pardoner’s tale. The Pardoner fails to use the theme of greed and its influence over people in its fullest in his story.

Since Chaucer’s work recounts the tales he was told on his way to Canterbury, he begins with the person who told his story first, the Pardoner. The Pardoner begins his story by stating,” ‘Gentlemen,’ he said, ‘in churches when I preach, I take pains to have a loud voice, And ring it out as round as goes a belle, For I know all by rote that I tell. My theme is always the same, and ever was –‘Greed is the root of all evil.’” Instead of trying to tie in or build up the theme of greed in his story, he immediately starts by telling what the theme of the story is. Normally this would give the writer a disadvantage, with the reader already knowing what the theme is, they would be able to discern any sort of implications you through at them with ease.

There are a few ideas as to why the Pardoner started with the theme of the story; either he thought the group was too stupid to understand the point he was trying to come across or he was so full of himself and his ability to preach that he thought would accidently trick someone into buying one of his relics. The story continues with three men drinking away at a bar, enjoying their time, when suddenly a man dies outside the bar they were at. With the men extremely inebriated, they join together as a pact in order to stop Death from killing any more people. On their quest to destroy Death, they meet an old man in the middle of the road and when they confront the man on information of Death’s location they start to berate him with insults. After continued efforts to be kind to the group, the old man replies, “‘Now, sirs,’ said he, ‘if you are so eager To find Death, turn up this crooked way, For in that grove I left him, by my faith, Under a tree, and there he will wait; He will not in any way hide himself because of your boast. Do you see that oak? Right there you shall find him. God save you, He who redeemed mankind, And amend you!’ Thus said this old man;”

When the three men rush to confront Death, instead of being greeted by the monster, they instead were met with a hoard of gold left by the old man. The three men immediately decided to split the money amongst themselves, and to celebrate, sent the youngest to grab some food from town. However while the youngest was away, 2 of the men decide to kill the man when he gets back. Unbeknownst to them, the youngest had plans to poison them with the wine he was bringing back. AS the youngest returned he was swiftly killed by the two men. Their kills were short lived however, with the men drinking the wine and dying soon after.

With the pardoners tale now finished, he concludes his story by trying to get the group to buy a few of relics to repent of their sins. The Host doesn’t take a liking to this and threatened to cut off a few unmentionables to use as his relics. This is a good use of both the reader’s expectation of the use of greed and its build up as the theme of the story. The reader already knows that the theme of the story is about the greed and its effects on people. With this knowledge, the pardoner tries to convince the reader that they are the same as the three young men and that they should repent for their sins. However, him giving away the theme of his story, however obvious, ends up ruining any impact the story would have on his audience and in turn ruins any impact the story would have overall.

While the Pardoner’s tale has a simple theme that is simple to understand and digest, the impact is ruined with the pardoner stating the obvious and spoiling his own story’s major point in the first couple of lines. Due to this, any chance the story had with winning over its audience was lost when he stated the theme of his tale. With this, the story’s theme of greed and its influence over people fails by the Pardoner starting with the explanation of its theme.