Comparing the Hero in Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

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Beowulf and Sir Gawain – True Heroes

Heroes come in many forms. The construction of "the heroic" has taken many forms, yet traits such as: courage, honor, and loyalty, reappear as themes throughout the "hero" personality. The characters of Beowulf and Sir Gawain each represent a version of a hero, yet each comes across quite differently in their story. A hero can be said to truly win if he remains constant to his noble values when put in any situation that crosses his way. When measured by that criterion, Sir Gawain stands out above Beowulf as a true hero, due to his command of both personal and spiritual power through the use of thought, as well as valiant deeds.

The character of Beowulf stands as a hero to the ancient Danes because of his actions. He is constantly being cited as a "war-chief" and a "gold-giver" (61). Beowulf has achieved fame through what he has done with his own hands. His identity as a leader is based upon the Danish society’s emphasis on personal action, as opposed to the delegation of responsibility through conscious thought. It is this very sense which spurs Beowulf to fight the dragon: "In my youth I engaged in many wars. Old guardian of the people, I shall still seek battle, perform a deed of fame, if the evil-doer will come to me..." (59). Beowulf derives his power from a strong link to the past. Without his history of glorious deeds, he would see himself bereft of the very power which qualifies him to be a good King. Beowulf’s bravery never comes in to question, he does meet every challenge head-on, with deadly attention. The society which labels Beowulf as a legendary hero, recognizes his actions and his bravery as a integral part of his definition as a hero. Without the society to support th...

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...or a chivalric Knight embodies the battle of the righteous self against corruption. Gawain’s strength comes from his discovery of his own flaws. Beowulf’s ideals concerning honor and nobility exist only within the context of his society. Remove him from other people, and his life would be meaningless. This is the true flaw of Beowulf, which the character of Gawain, by the end of his story, comes to realize. The notion of "winning" can be applied at all times to the personality of the chivalric Knight. The battleground becomes the mind, which is separate from the realm of reality. Beowulf does not have the capability to win, without the recognition of his fellow warriors. Within the mind, all sorts of battles are waged. The true winner is the person who can learn from that struggle, and who is able to apply that knowledge within both solitary and societal venues.
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