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The Pardoner as Symbol in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales

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

The Power of John Milton’s Paradise Lost

Throughout the text of Milton’s Paradise Lost, we can see many instances of binary relationships connecting separate conceptual ideas. The construction of “authorship” in the poem exists as a good example of just such a relationship. This theme incorporates two very different ideas in the poem, and is central to the understanding of issues concerning the creation and use of power.

The attention Milton gives to each character, and their specific personality, allows us to interpret their actions as consciously chosen deeds within the larger framework of the poem. Great detail is given to the idea of “creation”. Beyond that of the creation of the world in Book I, there are many instances where the act of creation itself becomes an act of endowing power on some object or person. The most obvious example would be the creation of Adam and Eve by God. By creating the pair, God, desires them to glorify His ways through their praises and deeds. He gives them enough power over their destiny to choose to worship Him as the Almighty. The fact that they have free will is important to God because they choose to give Him praise despite any outside temptation. There is one obvious drawback to this kind of power. They chose to follow Satan’s beguiling words. The fact that they had the free will to follow Satan’s words meant that their decision was cosmically more important because it was arrived at through conscious thought. We can see this idea of power demonstrated throughout Paradise Lost. The dual relationship between the beneficial act of bestowing power at the time of creation and the negative side of the free will to use that power freely, shows up within every character. Instances of creation appear in every book, and can be associated with every character. Some of the first appearances of the word “author” are connected with the idea of creation. In Book III, the throngs of assembled angels say,”Eternal King, the Author of all being/Fountain of light, thyself invisible/…” (III, 376-7) Here God is portrayed as the great originator of everything in all of creation. To be the “author” of something is to be the creator, much the same way as Milton himself is creating the world of the poem. In virtually every instance the act of “authoring”, is associated with images of primacy and legitimacy. The ultimate act of creation, that of shaping the physical world itself, brings about another reference to this idea.

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