What is the purpose of the "Pardoner's Tale?"

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lusie0520 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The purpose of the "Pardoner’s Tale" is to show greed and corruption within the church.  To understand this, one has to be sure to read the prologue to the tale, which gives us real insight into the Pardoner himself.  He starts by saying that the theme of his preaching is always, “Money is the root of all evil.” He then reveals how dishonest he is by discussing how he tricks people out of their money.  He says: “This I can preach against the same vice which I practice, and that is avarice.”  Before we even read the tale, we know that the Pardoner himself uses it on people in order to extort money from them. 

The tale itself does preach that money is the root of all evil.  When the three friends go to seek death, they make a vow to always stick together and to “kill death.”  Yet, when they encounter the old man and he sends them up the hill, instead of finding death, they find gold.  Once they find the gold, their vow to find death is forgotten, as is their vow to stick together.  When the youngest goes to town to get food, the other two conspire to kill him.  While he is going to town, the youngest comes up with his own plan.  At the end of the story, greed causes everyone to kill everyone else, and in that sense, they “find death.”  The tale the Pardoner tells is one that warns us that money can separate us from our friends and even lead us to our death.  This is ironic because the Pardoner himself steals money from people by tricking them. 

Read the study guide:
The Canterbury Tales

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