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Analysis Of Sir Gawain's Character

Analysis Of Sir Gawain's Character

In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the character of Sir Gawain, nephew of the famed Arthur of the Round Table, is seen as the most noble of knights who is the epitome of chivalry, yet he is also susceptible to mistakes. His courtesy, honor, honesty, and courage are subjected to various tests, posed by the wicked Morgan le Fay. Some tests prove his character and the chivalrous code true and faultless, like the time he answers a challenge although it might mean his death, or remains courteous to a lady despite temptation. Other tests prove his character and the chivalrous code faulty such as the time he breaks his promise to his host, and when he flinches from a harmless blow.

The first test to his courage, courtesy, humility and loyalty toward his king, Arthur, occurs when the Green Knight suddenly appears at Camelot’s New Year's feast. He offers the Round Table a challenge: the game is for a man to strike him with his axe, and twelve months and a day later, the Green Knight will return the blow. When Arthur accepts the challenge, Gawain interferes and asks Arthur with humility and courtesy to “grant him the grace to stand by him” (SGGK l. 343-344). He confesses that “he is the weakest, and of wit feeblest, and the loss of his life would not be a great tragedy at all because his body, but for Arthur’s blood, is not worth much" (SGGK l. 354-357). He asks to be granted the privilege to claim the Green Knight's challenge because it does not befit a king. Proof of Gawain’s character is substantiated by his noble acceptance of the Green Knight’s beheading game in order to “release the king outright from his obligation”(SGGK l. 365). It shows courage and loyalty that even among famed knights suc...

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...love for his life. Thus Gawain deserves less blame for his misdemeanor minor transgression.

Although Gawain, like most us, is prone to evil thoughts of selfishness and dishonesty, and takes a cowardly action, "men still hold him dear" in Bercilak's castle as well as in Arthur's Camelot (SGGK l. 2465). His friends are not as disappointed with him as he is disappointed with himself. He holds himself in contempt, "rages in his heart and grieves" for the shame in his actions and the green belt that he must bear (SGGK l.251-252). He wears the girdle as a badge to remind him of his faults and to lower his pride when it becomes inflated. But he has learned from his mistakes and becomes an even better knight.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in The Norton Anthology of English Literature 7th ed. vol.1. Abrams, M. H et al. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2000. 157-210.
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