The Garden of Eden

The serpent asked the woman, "Did God really tell you not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?" The woman answered… "It is only the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, \'You shall not eat or even touch it less you die.\'" But the serpent said to the woman: "You certainly will not die! No, God knows well that the moment you eat of it you will be like God who knows what is good and what is bad."
--Genesis 3, 1-5
In the Garden of Eden, the serpent acted as a master deceptor. Through trickery, he convinced Eve to eat God\'s forbidden fruit. Though the snake never lied to the woman, he misled her into believing that the apple would provide pleasure and infinite wisdom. She did gain an understanding of the differences between good and evil, but lived with the consequence of eternal sin. The serpent\'s deception brought pain, hurt, and punishment to Adam and Eve and all of mankind.
However, the serpent is not unique to the Old Testament. Similar deception is evident in all facets of society throughout history. In The Canterbury Tales, the Pardoner successfully deceived two audiences: the villagers and his fellow pilgrims.
At first, it is easy to dismiss the Pardoner\'s tale as merely a mistake. Indeed, understanding the relationship between the depraved Pardoner and his moral tale is a formidable task. But, it is important to recognize the brilliance of Geoffrey Chaucer. Through his tales, Chaucer establishes a pattern whereby each story acts as a window into the storyteller\'s life. The Wife of Bath\'s Tale echoed her own sentiments on the value of experience and the necessity of female sovereignty in marriage. In both the Merchant\'s Tale and his life, the pleasure principle dominated. The Clerk\'s Tale indicated his own diligent struggle for a greater purpose and his unwillingness to accept things at face value. The Clerk was able to provide a broader meaning for the Marriage Group. He directed the discussion away from the issue of marriage to man\'s relationship with God. Thus, it is apparent that the character of the Pardoner must be consistent throughout and that the Pardoner\'s tale must fit his personality.
However, the Pardoner, a vulgar scoundrel, appears unfit to tell the moral story he recounts. The pardoner financially profited from duplicity, dishonesty, and deceit. He granted pardons for a fee, exchanging forgiveness for money. His immoral ways made him a likely candidate for Babylon. By allowing his pardons to replace normal penance, the Pardoner showed the villagers "the easy way" to do things; he directed others to a path of sin. He impressed his customers with authentic looking, but fraudulent relics and his feigned holiness. He misled the poor and allowed his greed and avarice, not a greater religious purpose, to dictate his actions. The pardoner explained, "I mean to have money, wool, and cheese and wheat/ Though it were given me by the poorest lad/ Or poorest village widow/ Though she had a string of starving children all agape" (p. 262). The pardoner was not concerned with helping the poor physically, mentally, or spiritually, but instead he concentrated on exploiting the villagers for his own personal gain. However, the Pardoner\'s corruption of the pilgrims on the voyage to Canterbury was an even viler sin than his deception of the countrymen.
The other pilgrims were aware of the Pardoner\'s unfavorable character traits before he narrated his tale. Therefore, it would have done him little good to pose as a holy man. By telling them the truth about his evil nature, the Pardoner could further mislead his companions. Like the serpent, he used a lie to facilitate his deception.
The pardoner said, "Believe me, many a sermon or devotive/ Exordium issues from an evil motive" (p. 261). The Pardoner was able to tell an exquisite, moral tale, but did so with an amoral motive. As a result of the Pardoner\'s Tale, each representative of the church seemed transparent. The truthfulness of any Church figure was suspect. If the Parson told a moral tale, he would seem as insidious as the Pardoner. Indeed, on the pilgrimage, the Pardoner attacked the very root of each traveler\'s belief in God. Who could be sure