Who are the criminals of our society? They are the murders and the sex offenders. There are many other criminals living among us on day-to-day basis, but sometimes we do not know who they are. There are many people with very different physical appearances, but they still have the same dastardly profession. Chaucer describes the Pardoner and the Miller to have different appearances and attitudes. The two of them steal and cheat people out of their money, but in different ways. These characters illustrate how one’s behaviour cannot be determined by one’s initial appearance.
Appearances often do not show the reality of a person’s true colours. The Pardoner and the Miller have completely different appearances, but commit similar crimes. Chaucer describes the Pardoner, who benefits from the fact that people trust him. With his “heer as yelow as wex” (l. 677) it hangs to his shoulders in long thin strands. His face was smooth as if he had just shaven. He was like a gelding or a mare making him look gentle and kind. Along with him he had a bag, and within the bag is a pillowcase in “which that he saide was Oure Lady Veil” (l. 697).
With the pillowcase he also claimed he has the sail of which Saint Peter had the time he went to sea, a cross of brassy metal full of stones “And in a glas he hadde pigges bones” (l. 702). With the Pardoner’s appearance being gentle and warm he took his relics and sold them to poor parsons that would trust him and believe the lies he tells. There are many parsons that trusted and bought the Pardoner’s relics, making him more money in one day “than that the person gat in monthes twaye” (l. 706). You should never judge a person by their appearances, as they could be the fraud men we never wanted to associate with.
Sometimes people’s appearances show how they should not be trusted, so we stay as far away as possible. Unlike the Pardoner, the Miller looks like a criminal. The Miller’s rough look does not make him very appealing to others. With his broad build “ther was no dore that he nolde heve of harre” (l. 552) or he would break it by ramming with his head. He has a bread that is as broad as a spade and redder than a fox. “His nosethirles blake were and wide” (l. 559) and at the end of his nose sat a wart. He wore a white coat with a blue hood and he carried with him a sword and a shield. He has a “mouth as greet was as a greet furnais” (l.
561) and he was a chatter and loved to be the teller of stories. If the Miller was not telling stories he would play the bagpipes, but little does he know he is not very good at them. When the Miller is not telling stories or playing the bagpipes, he is working at the mill being the criminal that he appears to be. He steals corn and deducts far more than the lawful percentage. He always makes sure that he is getting his cut of the profit, if not a little more. With the Miller’s appearance not being appealing to us, we knew that he could not be trusted as soon as he was described to us.
Chaucer outwardly describes the Pardoner as trustworthy, but he is just as criminal as the Miller. When judging someone by their appearances it gives us many false beliefs about the person. There are often hidden realities underneath the superficial appearance of an individual. Most people in our society do not realize how many people judge people by the way they look. Some people appear to be trustworthy individuals but are criminally oriented. Therefore the old saying applies; you cannot judge a book by its cover. Are you certain that you can trust the person sitting next to you?
Chaucer, Geoffrey. “General Prolugue to The Canterbury Tales”
Norton Anthology of English Litature: Major Authors. 7th Edition.
Ed. M.H. Abrams. New York: W.W. Norton, 2001. 178-198.