The Pardoner's Tale: Chaucer's Critique of Human Greed

Categories: The Canterbury Tales


In Chaucer's section of the Canterbury Tales, "The Pardoner's Tale," the narrative unfolds with a profound theme at its core: the notion that greed is the root of all evil. This essay delves into various literary elements present in the tale, focusing on personification, moral lessons, and the intricate plot that underscores Chaucer's exploration of the human condition.

Literary Elements in "The Pardoner's Tale"

Chaucer's craft is evident in his use of literary devices, notably personification. In this tale, Death is not a mere concept but a characterized figure, endowed with human traits.

This strategic choice transforms the narrative, instilling a sense of doom and fear. By personifying Death, Chaucer adds layers of suspense and terror, making the journey to the unknown, which death represents, all the more impactful.

Moral Lesson: Greed as the Root of Evil

The moral lesson embedded in the tale echoes biblical teachings: greed is the root of all evil. This theme is vividly portrayed through the actions of the characters, especially the youngest.

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Tempted by greed, he devises an evil plan, pouring poison into two cups but keeping the third clean for himself. Chaucer intends for the reader to recognize the societal issues intertwined with money and greed, as they drive individuals to commit reprehensible acts.

Character Analysis

The characters in "The Pardoner's Tale" play a pivotal role in conveying the overarching theme. Chaucer goes beyond traditional representations and personifies Death, giving this abstract concept tangible qualities. Death, characterized as a "privy thief," evokes fear by suggesting a figure actively causing demise.

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This personification enhances the narrative, creating a profound impact by transforming the inevitability of death into a sentient force that lurks among the living.

Plot Analysis and Irony

At the narrative's core lies the plot, a masterful creation by Chaucer that employs irony for both entertainment and critical reflection. Three men, in search of death, ironically find it in a heap of gold. The plot unfolds with a comedic twist as the characters' pursuit of death leads to their own demise. Chaucer's choice of irony serves not only as a narrative device but as a poignant critique of human greed, highlighting the profound truth that it is, indeed, the root of all evil.

Comedic Elements and Critique of Greed

The irony in the plot, where characters seeking death meet their own end, introduces comedic elements that underscore Chaucer's critique of human behavior. The tale humorously exposes the characters' misguided quest and their ultimate self-inflicted fate. This layer of comedy serves as a vehicle for Chaucer's broader commentary on the folly of human greed, portraying it as a driving force behind misguided actions and, ultimately, self-destruction.


In conclusion, Geoffrey Chaucer's "The Pardoner's Tale" stands as a testament to his narrative prowess. Through a careful interplay of literary elements, an impactful moral lesson, and a richly layered plot, Chaucer successfully conveys the timeless truth that greed is the root of all evil. The personification of Death adds depth to the narrative, instilling fear and suspense, while the ironic plot and comedic elements serve as both entertainment and a thought-provoking critique of human behavior.

Updated: Dec 29, 2023
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The Pardoner's Tale: Chaucer's Critique of Human Greed. (2016, Jul 30). Retrieved from

The Pardoner's Tale: Chaucer's Critique of Human Greed essay
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