24: The Parson's Tale Summary and Analysis
The journey of the pilgrims is almost over as this interlude begins. The Parson wants to remind the travelers that life itself is a spiritual journey, but the Parson says that he declines to bury his message in a fable. He will speak out exactly what he means. Promising to be brief, the Parson begins his tale.
The Parson openly preaches a sermon on the nature of penitence. First of all he discusses the concept of contrition. He describes the requirements for confession and details how satisfaction for sin is to be made. This incredibly long discourse becomes a sort of handbook for the sinner who wishes to obtain God's forgiveness according to the teachings of the Catholic Church.
Discussion and Analysis
The Parson refuses to sink to the level of an entertainer as the Host seems to be demanding in the prologue. Remaining true to his devout and serious nature, the Parson takes a religious stance, yet promises to tell a merry story.
Not only does the Parson not tell a story, he preaches a two-hour sermon. The material in The Parson's Tale is very difficult for the modern reader to relate to; the pilgrims must have had an even more difficult time understanding. Yet the long sermon is in keeping with the character of the teller whose primary motivation, we are told, is the salvation of souls.
In constructing this treatise on penitence, Chaucer used the theological writings of prominent and revered theologians, heavily peppering their ideas with scriptural quotations. This source material sprang up after 1215 AD when confession became a requirement for forgiveness in the Catholic Church. The writings Chaucer used originated during this period so that the clergy would be thoroughly instructed and could educate the laity in this important area of practice.