The Evil Side of Human Nature
Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales became one of the first ever works that began to approach the standards of modern literature. It was probably one of the first books to offer the readers entertainment, and not just another set of boring morals. However, the morals, cleverly disguised, are present in almost every story. Besides, the book offers the descriptions of the most common aspects of the human nature. The books points out both the good and the bad qualities of the people, however, the most obvious descriptions are those of the sinful flaws of humans, such as greed and lust.
One of the people’s traits affected by human nature in many stories is greed. As shown throughout, greed is an evil sin. This is especially obvious in the Pardoner’s Tale, where the Pardoner, a church-appointed official who collects gold for absolving people their sins, tells about the evils of money. In the story, three friends, who wanted to make the world better by killing death, find gold, and unwilling to share, start planning to kill each other. Two friends sent the third to bring them food and wanted to kill him after he came back. The victim, however, also wanted the money, and poisoned their drinks. As a result, all three friends die. “Thus were these two homicides finished,/ and the false poisoner too.” (Chaucer 365). Even though Chaucer’s conclusions are not expressed and actually are very different from what the Pardoner says, Chaucer manages to convey his message to the audience. In the Reeve’s Tale, greed and envy caused two young students and the Miller to trick and steal from each other. “This Miller has done me great mischief, and I will not leave without first finding his daughter” (The Reeve). In the end, the students sleep with the Miller’s wife and daughter, and the Miller ends up beaten and losing many of his possessions, but the story doesn’t justify the students, the stealing, or even the greed itself. Chaucer leaves it up to the readers to make their own conclusions.
The Canterbury Tales also present a number of shockingly bizarre for their time descriptions of lust and adultery. In a lot of stories old men in their sixties are shown having young wives, which was probably common in Chaucer’s times. In one example, from the Merchant’s tale, old January, unwilling to die single, decides to marry, but demands that his wife must be younger than twenty. Later in the story, January’s young wife cheats on him in a tree after he had gone blind. “He cast two eyes up to the tree,/ and saw that Damian had managed his wife/ in such a way as may not be expressed/ unless I would speak discourteously.” (Chaucer 293). In the example from the Wife of Bath, lusty human nature led one of the king’s knights to raping a girl. “It happened that he saw a maiden/ walking before him, alone as she was born./ And from this maiden then, against her will,/ and by pure force, he took her maidenhood.” (Chaucer 223). Again, even though neither the knight, January, nor his wife May suffered any serious consequences in the end, and everything turned out almost fine for all three of them, Chaucer clearly shows how grossly inappropriate their actions were, and the moral of each of the stories can be easily understood by the readers.
The traits depicted as the most affected by human nature in The Canterbury Tales are sometimes most easily found in anybody, which is why the readers may actually recognize themselves in some of the characters. Such technique let the readers relate to the characters and probably contributed to the book’s immense popularity over the centuries that passed since