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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

By Anonymous User Apr 01, 1996 754 Words
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a Middle English romance poem written by

an anonymous West Midlands poet also credited with a lot of other poems written during

that time. The protagonist, Sir Gawain, survives two tests: a challenge, which he alone

without the assistance of King Arthur's knights accepts, to behead the fearsome Green

Knight and to let him retaliate a year later at the distant Green Chapel; and the temptation

to commit adultery with the wife of Lord Bercilak--in reality the Green Knight--in whose

castle he stays in en route to the chapel. This story is emblematic of life; how it issues

tests and challenges and the consequences rendered as a result of failing or succeeding

these challenges.

Sir Gawain is a very symbolic character; symbolic in the sense that he represents

innocence in life. He was not afraid to accept a challenge because it meant saving the

kingdom from the affects of anarchy as a result of not having a king. Sir Gawain

accepting the challenge from the Green Knight instantly represented one of the things

that knighthood represented, fearlessness. People accept those kind of challenges

everyday. This could possibly be where the term 'sticking your neck out' could have

come from. When people accept challenges, most do not want to accept the

consequences as a result of being unsuccessful. Gawain was not like this. When the year

passed he gallantly mounted his horse and set off for the Green Chapel. This showed that

Gawain was brave. This was preceded by the warning 'Beware, Gawain, that you not end

a betrayer of your bargain through fear.'

Along this journey Gawain faces peril and self-reluctance in the form of the

elements and the never-ending search for the chapel respectively. These feeling can be

characterized as the inner turmoil suffered as a result of dealing with one's conscience.

The journey also tested his faith in the sense that he was constantly in prayer during his

journey, and not once did he curse or renounce the name of God. It seems as if the

prayers were what kept Gawain sane and focused on the purpose of his journey.

Gawain's prayers were answered when he rode along and finally came upon a place that

he could petition for possible rest. This castle would be the setting for Gawain's next test.

The test builds as he feasts with the court and finds that a certain lady has an interest in

knowing Gawain a little better. The lady is later to be known as the wife of Bercilak -aka-

the Green Knight. This is shown as temptation. The lady tries to seduce Gawain while

Betilak is away on a hunting excursion. Gawain resists every advance made by the lady

except a kiss for which he mentions in confession. Gawain is given a sash by the lady

which is said to protect the wearer from harm. Reluctantly he accepts the sash and does

not tell Bercilak that he received this from the lady. He does this because he puts his trust

in a material item instead of God to protect him from harm. This will prove to be one of

Gawain's few downfalls in this story.

Gawain sets out for the Chapel and finds the Green Knight there honing his ax.

Gawain bending over for the blow is feinted by the knight. When this happens Gawain

flinches and is chastised by the knight for doing so. The knight raises the ax for a second

time and feints the blow again. This time Gawain is furious at the knight's playfulness.

The Knight raises his ax for a third time and nicks Gawain on the back of the neck. The

knight explains that the first two strokes were symbolic of the exchanges at the castle

between Gawain and the lady which he resisted, and the final blow was representative of

Gawain failing the final exchange and accepting the sash in place of faith in God. The

knight says that it could be forgiven and praised him for being one of the most faithful

men he has ever seen. The Knight says that 'Gawain was polished of that plight and

purified' meaning that man, despite faults and differences, can be forgiven. Gawain feels

that he has faulted himself and the confidence of others, but is once again forgiven by his


This poem has a lot to do with the way in which man lives his life. Tests and

challenges face man everyday, and to be forgiven of these is normal. This story will

always be remembered for its intricate poetry in the handling of Gawain, and can be used

as a standard in which one can judge himself. Gawain is a man, and men have forgivable


'Life is a Series of Tests and Challenges'

A critical analysis of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

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