The Pardoner’s Tale: The Uncanny


 The Uncanny is said to be a Gothic concept.  It originates as a Freudian concept of an instance where something can be familiar, yet foreign at the same time, resulting in a feeling of it being uncomfortably unsettling. Because the uncanny is familiar, yet strange, we are simultaneously attracted to it and repulsed by it.

Freud specifically relates an aspect of the Uncanny (derived from the German unheimlich) by contrasting it with its base word heimlich which means “concealed, hidden, in secret”.

Freud proposes that the uncanny often yields an aura of horror and disgust, because it is visible form of what should be hidden and that it therefore must be a dangerous threat and even an abomination.  Basically, the Uncanny is that which unconsciously reminds us of our own hidden, and forbidden, primitive drives (the id).  The critical moral side of us (the super-ego) fears punishment for these drives, which are contrary to acceptable social norms, so we project our own repressed impulses upon uncanny monsters, freaks, fairy-tale folk-devils and scapegoats, which we blame for all sorts of perceived miseries, calamities, and maladies.

The uncanny in literature are thereby externalised forms of our innermost forbidden desires.

So, in The Pardoner’s Tale:

To what extent do the three scoundrels blame Death for their own sinful behaviour and thoughts?

What evidence do we have that the pardoner enjoys ‘demonising’ the scoundrels because they are projected versions of his own sinfulness?

In what ways might it be said that we are simultaneously attracted to and repulsed by the scoundrels and the pardoner?  To what extent do you feel that the appeal of The Pardoner’s Tale lies in this paradox?

Other pages (some mine) on The Pardoner’s Tale:

Very useful Study Guide giving insights into many aspects of the text, including a commentary on the significance of phrases.


Modern English rendering 

Chaucer: The Man and his Work

The Pardoner of the Tale

The Pardoner’s Tale as Sermon (Form)

The Pardoner’s Tale Annotated Text (first few lines)

The Pardoner’s Tale: context

Modern English version

The Pardoner’s Tale: questions

The Pardoner’s Tale: the uncanny

The Pardoner’s Tale: writing style and characterisation




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