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Sir Gawain The Likeable Character English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1972 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a romantic novel written in the 14th century. The novel tells a story of one of the King Arthur’s knights. In the tale Sir Gawain, the protagonist of the story fights a mysterious warrior who is completely green. The Green knight proposes everyone to strike him with his axe and in return he can do the same after one year and one day pass. Mr. Gawain accepts the proposal and cuts off Knights head. Knight takes his head from the ground and promises Mr. Gawain to meet him in a year and a day. Then the tale tells a story of Mr. Gaiwain’s actions before the appointment and his adventures and great deeds.

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The story not only has complex plot and rich vocabulary, but also uses complex symbols. The tale contains elements of Celtic and Germanic folk tales. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a typical example of romantic tale. It tells a story of a hero who has to go through difficult challenges in order to prove his status. Gawain must undergo a journey to find the Green Knight, and true to the epic tale, Gawain’s journey is filled with obstacles and challenges. The reader is easily caught up in Gawain’s dramatic adventures and finds him to be a likeable character. Although Gawain tells a lie through omission, he remains a likeable character, and one who, at the same time, can teach the reader an important lesson about the value of truth telling.

The author of this epic tale illustrates that despite Gawain sometimes neglects certain rules and regulations his honor and noble nature are not put under doubt. Sir Gawain knows no fear. As states Gawain about his attitude to problems: “In destinies sad or merry, True men can but try.” At the same time he is clever enough to look for different ways to escape death and save his life. Gawain follows his inner truth and he does not break his word of honor. During his long journey and multiple adventures Gawain is checked up. The sum of his decision shows him as decent and honorable man who becomes and example of courage and noble.

In the beginning of the poem Sir Gawain finds himself in a vey difficult situation. The challenge of the Green Knight puts under doubt his honor and pride and also threatens his life. When Green Knight challenged the Court of King Arthur Sir Gawain makes a courageous decision to take the challenge. He takes the cup and demonstrates great pride and courage by doing this. King Arthur had to take the challenge of the Green Knight in order to escape the shame in front of the court. Sir Gawain saves his king and his honor by answering the challenge. In the second part of the poem, when sir Gawain knows that the Green Knight will definitely take off his head he does not choose to leave Camelot and save his life. Sir Gawain chooses the only right kind of behavior. He starts looking for the Greed Knight in order to keep his word. Sir Gawain had to meet different hardships in order to find Green Knights and keep the promise.

During his travel sir Gawain has to pass different tests in order to prove his honesty and generosity.

Sir Gawain possess a lot of good qualities including modesty. When Sir Gawain speaks about himself he names himself last in the list of King Arthur’s knights according to physical powers and mental abilities. His claim underlines his modesty. In reality Sir Gawain is Arthur’s nephew and one of the best knights of Camelot and his noble position and physical abilities can not be doubted. Gawain’s to take the challenge of Green Knight proves his bravery and generosity. The first appearance of the Green Knight becomes a great surprise for everyone in the court:

There hurtles in at the hall-door an unknown rider,

One the greatest on ground in growth of his frame:

From broad neck to buttocks so bulky and thick,

And his loins and his legs so long and so great,

Half a giant on earth I hold him to be,


Great wonder grew in hall

At his hue most strange to see,

For man and gear and all

Were green as green could be.

When Green Knight appears (Gawain)

Great use of hyperbole is used by the author of the poem in order to underline the importance of the figure of Green Knight. From the very first appearance the Green Knight demonstrates great power of this figure. Some critics find parallels between the description of Green Knight and the Bible. Genesis describes the story of mighty giant who was born from fallen angels and human women. The description “half giant on earth” may sound as allusion to Genesis story about giant creatures. The author of Sir Gawain describes the Green Knight as a very handsome man. His appearance has one strange peculiarity – he is absolutely green. All the appearance of the Knight speaks about his supernatural powers.

Desire to self-improvement is another peculiar characteristic of Sir Gawain. Through the poem he looks for the ways to become better an to improve his personality. Despite Gawain makes mistakes he always seeks for the means to correct them and he is always ready to improve himself. At this point his journey resembles pilgrimage – a religious journey to sacred places. Sir Gawain looks not only for real person. His journey becomes a metaphor of inner search and inner transformation. When all his effort fails he starts praying and suddenly sees a wonderful and mysterious castle:

There hoved a great hall and fair:

Turrets rising in tiers, with tines at their tops,

Spires set beside them, splendidly long,

With finials well-fashioned, as filigree fine.

Chalk-white chimneys over chambers high

Gleamed in gay array upon gables and roofs;

The pinnacles in panoply, pointing in air,

So vied there for his view that verily it seemed

A castle cut of paper for a king’s feast.

The good knight on Gringolet thought it great luck

If he could but contrive to come there within

To keep the Christmas feast in that castle fair

and bright.

(Gawain 794-806)

The author uses complex symbolism when he speaks about the castle. Sir Gawain finds it right before Christmas, when he is fully exhausted and almost looses hope. He prays to Mary and in response to his pray the castle appears suddenly. The castle looks not like a usual building, but like a castle from fairy tale. At this point of narration Sir Gawain does not know about the owner of the castle. In reality the Green Knights owns this mysterious castle. Sir Gawain has to stand difficult conditions of life, long travels and fasting in order to find this mysterious place. The author of the poem drives certain parallels with pilgrimage to Jerusalem and religious search. Only in the next chapters the man character finds out the truth about the castle and realizes his mistake.

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When Sir Gawain starts a game with the host of the castle the hostess of the castle gives comments which finally result in Gawain’s failure. The hostess of the castle plays a role of teacher and mistress. She tries to seduce Gawain when her husband leave the castle and goes hunting. Sir Gawain does not follow he gave and they exchange only several kisses. In the third day lady Bertilak gives Sir Gawain a green silk girdle, which may help to save him from death when the Green Knight will try to cut off his head.

When the day comes and Sir Gawain enters the Green Chapel he meets there the Green Knight. Despite Sir Gawain makes a long journey to pay the debt of honor, right before the meeting he becomes scared and accepts the present of Lady Bertilak – a green silk girdle, which must defend him from death. When Sir Gawain meets the Green Knight he uses the girdle to escape death. The Green Knight makes three attempts to cut off his head but he fails. Sir Gawain thinks that it is girdle, which save him but late the Green Knight discovers that all the story was a joke of Sir Gawain’s cousin. Sir Gawain feels bad about his cowardice and looks for excuses to justify his lies and fear. He makes an attempt to blame Lady Bertilak but his argument is not convincing even for himself.

But if a dullard should dote, deem it no wonder,

And through the wiles of a woman be wooed into sorrow,

For so was Adam by one, when the world began,

And Solomon by many more, and Samson the mighty-

Delilah was his doom, and David thereafter

Was beguiled by Bathsheba, and bore much distress (Gawain, 2414-2419).

He enumerates different cases when women betrayed men. Gawain uses examples from the Bible when women became the causes of problems for men. He speaks about Adam and Eve and their expel from the Garden of Eden; about Samson and Delilah; David and Bathsheba looking for the examples of female guilt.

For these were proud princes, most prosperous of old,

Past all lovers lucky, that languished under heaven,


And one and all fell prey

To women they had used;

If I be led astry,

Methinks I may be excused(Gawain, 2422-2428).

Finally he comes to realization that the actions of Lady Bertilak can not serve as an excuse of his behavior. He realizes that he must take the responsibility for his actions.

Both, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight follow a well defined code of ethics. Chivalry is one of main codes which Sir Gawain, same like many other knights, follows in his life. Chivalry helps to save the ideals of morality and generosity. The author of the poem for several times underlines that Sir Gawain possesses these qualities. The symbols of morality and chivalry are depicted in Sir Gawain’s shield. The pentangle, which is engraved in Sir Gawain’s shield symbolizes five main characteristics of knights, which are chastity, piety, courtesy, generosity and friendship. The code of behavior of knights was one of the main distinguishing features of these noble men. Following these five virtues was obvious for all knights and Sir Gawain made his best in order to follow these principles. Throughout the poem Sir Gawain goes through the check up of his bravery and courtesy. When Gawain makes his difficult journey looking for the Green Chapel he also follows the code of chivalry. He wants to make an appearance of strong and fearless men and wants to take responsibility for his actions. When Gawain spends certain time in the forest he leave the code of chivalry ethics for some time and starts praying and asking for help. When he finally gets this help the sees the castle he gets the opportunity to see the style of life which is different from unnatural chivalry of King Arthur’s court. That is the lesson the Green Knight wanted to teach Sir Gawain and the King Arthur’s court. When Gawain turns to life to save his life before meeting with the Green Knight he breaks the norms of chivalry. He feels frustrated and embarrassed when the truth is discovered but he understands the main lesson of the Green Knight. The Green Knight wants to teach him the truth about human nature and wants him to understand that human nature should not be neglected. Human nature is an important part of human beings and it should not be suppressed for the sake of chivalry. Only harmonious coexistence of these different systems may help people to become mature and happy. Despite Sir Gawain lies and breaks the norms of chivalry, he understands the lesson about finds out many new things about human nature. Sir Gawain is able to recognize his faults and to make necessary conclusion and that makes him a likable character which makes readers respect him.


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