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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

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“Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” written by an Unknown author is truly a tale of a hero on an epic journey in order to find himself. When Sir Gawain is first introduced you view him as an insignificant part of King Arthur, and his knight’s of the round table. Sir Gawain is chivalrous and a truly great character who is concerned about protecting, and promoting his honor as a knight. Therefor he sought out the journey in the first place to prove himself worthy of being one of the knight’s of the round table, and as the story goes along you find him to be a well-mannered knight. However, because he is ashamed he took the girdle from Bertilak’s wife, he suppresses the information from the host. This omission of the truth violates the rules of the game the two men established, and agreed upon; which tarnishes Sir Gawain’s character slightly in the eyes of the reader. The tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is not only a tale of an epic hero out to discover himself as a man, but a true life lesson about how honesty is always is the best choice in the end.

“Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” is a good example of bildungsroman or “coming of age”. You see this as he goes through certain steps in his journey to find the Green Knight. His first test is when he steps up to play the game with the Green Knight because he sees himself as the “inferior knight” in comparison to all the rest of the knights. “I am the weakest, I know, and the dullest-minded, So my death would be the least loss, if truth should be told; Only because you are my uncle I am to be praised, No virtue I know in myself, but your blood” (354-357). So here he’s basically telling King Arthur that his death in the end would be the least loss to him, but there’s underlying meaning here because he really took the mission to prove himself. Or maybe it was because he wanted to save King Arthur and his knights from taking the mission upon themselves that’s what you’ll never know because everything in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight really has a double entendre feeling to it. The next encounter he has is with the host of the castle he’s staying at, and this really tests his chivalric codes and courtly love. Alanen states that, “The code of knightly courtesy seems to be the most important and highly esteemed set of rules.

Gawain demonstrates all three sets: knightly behavior as he accepts the Green Knight’s challenge, courtly love as he avoids lusting after the wife of his host, and Christian virtue in his dress”. Gawain suffers in the castle with the host’s wife because he knows not whether to follow his honor as a knight, or his pledge to courtly love merely a battle between man versus self. “So good a knight as Gawain as rightly reputed, in whom courtesy is so completely embodied; could not easily have spent so much time with a lady
Without begging a kiss, to comply with politeness, by some hint or suggestion at the end of a remark”
(1296-1301). He refuses the wife several times as she tries to get him to cave in by appealing to his courtly loves values in the end though he doesn’t sleep with her. But, the wife did offer him a green girdle that she claimed to be “magical” and Gawain kept it in fear of how he would soon have to face the Green Knight. Since he didn’t give the host his side of the deal that night it brings your eyes down upon Gawain’s character.

“The feeling of security Gawain has gained from accepting the girdle of immortality does not however, deter his need to confess his sins before heading out to face a challenge that should rightfully and logically take his life” (Alanen). This just goes to show how Sir Gawain has a moral conscious and he feels wrong for what he did therefore he gains some sympathy in a sense. After his confession to the priest you see Sir Gawain has changed from the beginning of the poem and has emerged a bit into a man. When he finally completes his “bildungsroman” is at the very end of the poem when the Green Knight reveals himself to Sir Gawain as the Green Knight and Gawain confesses that he withheld the girdle from him “See, my lord, said the man, and held up the girdle, This belt caused the scar that I bear on my neck; this is the injury and damage that I have suffered For the cowardice and covetousness that seized me there; This is the token of the dishonesty I was caught committing, And now I must wear it as long as I live.

For a man may hide his misdeed, but never erase it, For where once it takes root the stain can never be lifted” (2505 – 2512). The quote shows how Sir Gawain’s character has come full circle from a knight looking for a little fame to a knight who grew up and knew his values as a knight and respected them. Sir Gawain whole journey really goes to show what one little lie can take you through. Although Gawain learned a pretty big life long lesson that honesty will always be the best policy in the end because the truth sets people free, and that’s what this whole poem was constructed around. In spite of the fact that Gawain lied in the end his Christian virtue still shines through which is why the Green Knight showed sympathy towards him, and all the knights of the round table wore green girdles to honor him. They saw how courageous he really was even though he didn’t think so. That right there is how Sir Gawain earned his respect as a knight, and it was through him completing his “coming of age” as a knight, and that’s what makes his fame all the better.

Works Cited

Alanen, Miriam. “The Intentions of Gawain: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight through the lens of Peter Abeelard’s Theory of Intention.” 12 Dec 2012 Web. Winny, James. “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Translation” Broadview Editions. Publication: 1 Jan 1992. Print.

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