The Pardoner

Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, is about the tales of 29 pilgrims on a journey to Archbishop Beckett’s Tomb. This pilgrimage consists of a diverse group of people from all social statuses ranging from, aristocracy, clergy, middle, trade, and peasant class. Chaucer satirizes the clergy class in the prologue by portraying them as corrupt, greedy, and hypocritical. Within the clergy, there is the Pardoner for whom Chaucer holds a caustic and disdainful distance. The Pardoner’s shady character and lack of morals are revealed through his appearance, actions, and words.
The Pardoner’s appearance reflects numerous things about character. Chaucer reveals the gender ambiguity of the Pardoner when he describes him as having “hair as yellow as wax, hanging down smoothly like a hank of flax” (695-696). In addition to having long yellow locks, he is also cleanly shaven and possesses a high pitch voice. These traits suggest that he might be a homosexual. His appearance also undermines his position as a member of the Church. His status as a virtuous religious man is challenged due to the fact that a member of the religious class should not possess such vain appearances. He flaunts his disrespect and insincerity for God, the Church, and his belief through his vanity. He cares more about being well-dressed and fashionable when his true passion should be in his religion.
In addition to reflecting corruption physically, the Pardoner’s phoniness and untrustworthiness are revealed through his actions. The pardoner’s job is to provide the people with indulgences when they have committed a sin. In return, sinners donate to the church. The Pardoner, however, has been pocketing the money from these sales for his own benefit and even creating fake pardons to sell. This reveals the Pardoner as avaricious whose sole goal is to be rich. He is a con-man. Chaucer suggests that the Pardoner is a scoundrel when he observes, “He had a metal cross embedded with stones. And, in a glad, a rubble of pigs’ bones” (719-720). The Pardoner sells material objects such as gold cross with gems, pig bones, and fake indulgences as saints’ relics. He also preaches to make money and ultimately takes advantage of anyone in order to fill his pockets. While the other pilgrims are taking this journey to express their devotion, he is taking the journey for financial benefit.
The Pardoners words also greatly reflect on his true character. One of the stories he tells demonstrates how greed is the root of all evil. However, simultaneously he expresses blatant hypocrisy. The Pardoner even boosts and brags about the fact that he is corrupt and full of fraud, the very sins he denounces. Portraying himself in such a transparent and negative way suggests that his own corruption does not affect him. However, his willingness and earnestness to admit such sins may be an attempt to comfort his doubts about his fraudulent way of life. This also reflects his realization of his own wrongdoings, but he finds consolation in his money.
Chaucer reveals the Pardoner as an immoral, deceitful, and cynical fraud through his appearance, actions and words. The Pardoner is presented as the most distasteful pilgrim and is ultimately the representation of the sin of greed. His vain appearance reflects his impertinence towards God and the corruption of the Church. His actions of selling relics and indulgences and taking advantage of innocent people portray him as a heartless con artist. Through his words, the Pardoner informs the other pilgrims that he is aware of his actions but continues to live in such a way. His corrupt life is subjugated by money and he does not feel any contempt. A possible explanation for this behavior is perhaps the pardoner finds comfort in pursuing wealth and it is inevitable that his character is unalterable

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