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• VIEWS OF DEATH
We see Death first as the "thief" that the three revelers believe must be slain before he slays more people. This noble-sounding sentiment becomes ridiculous when you realize it's impossible to slay Death. The old man shows Death in another light, as an end to life that is part of the natural order and God's plan.
A third picture emerges at the deaths of the rioters, which is of righteous retribution. They went out looking for Death and they certainly found it. It's what they deserve for being fools and not following the right way of life.
The tale also deals with spiritual as well as actual death. The moral depth to which these young men descend is a kind of death that they can escape through correct living. But they don't, and so they meet physical death as well.
• DIVINE ORDER
God's plan is evident in all things, even in the schemes of foolish drunks. It is obviously not an accident that they meet the old man who tells them where Death is, and that Death has been waiting for them. They think they can live life by their own rules; they can't see that the pattern is already destined.
A drunken man in medieval imagery represents one who keeps his eyes only on the lower, gross things of life instead of looking upward toward the grace of God. This image appears in other tales as well, such as the Knight's and Miller's, where men who lack foresight are compared to being "drunk as a mouse." Drunkenness, the Pardoner tells us in his sermon on the subject (while he is drunk), leads to other sins, such as lechery and gluttony.
Like the Pardoner himself, his characters exhibit pride, the kind that comes before a fall. To seek and try to kill Death is an attempt to go beyond the bounds of man, and therefore is punishable by death. What the Pardoner doesn't realize is that the moral of his tale is especially applicable to himself. He is as blind to that as his three revelers are.