Individuation in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Sir Gawain is, undoubtably, the most varied of the Arthurian characters: from his first minor appearance as Gwalchmei in the Welsh tales to his usually side-line participation in the modern retelling of the tales, no other character has gone from such exalted heights (being regarded as a paragon of virtue) to such dismal depths (being reduced to a borderline rapist, murderer, and uncouth bore), as he. This degree of metamorphosis in character, however, has allowed for a staggering number of different approaches and studies in Gawain.
The greatest part of these studies have involved the middle-English text Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Extensive work has been done on this alliterative four-part poem written by an anonymous contemporary of Chaucer: feminists have attacked his diatribe against women at the end, or analyzed the interaction between Gawain and the women of Bercilak’s court; those of the D. W. Robertson school seek the inevitable biblical allusions and allegory concealed within the medieval text; Formalists and philologists find endless enjoyment in discovering the exact meaning of certain ambiguous and archaic words within the story. Another approach that yields interesting, if somewhat dated, results, is a Psychological or Archetypal analysis of the poem. By casting the Green Knight in the role of the Jungian Shadow, Sir Gawain’s adventure to the Green Chapel becomes a journey of self-discovery and a quest - a not entirely successful one - for personal individuation.
The Jungian process of individuation involves “. . . a psychological growing up, the process of discovering those aspects of one’s self that make one an individual differe...
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... until he does complete his quest of individuation, he shall never be nor feel whole.
Works Cited and Consulted
Anonymous, “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” in The Norton Anthology of English Literature, eds. Abrams, et al. (New York: Norton, 1993), 200.
Carl Gustav Jung, “The Principle Archetypes” in The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends, ed. David H. Richter (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989), 666.
Guerin, Wilfred L., et al., eds. A Handbook of Critical Approaches to Literature. Toronto: Oxford UP, 1992.
Lacy, Norris J. and Geoffrey Ashe. The Arthurian Handbook. New York: Garland Publishing, 1988.
Stephen Manning, “A Psychological Interpretation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” in Critical Studies of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, eds. Donald R. Howard and Christian Zacher (Notre Dame: Notre Dame UP, 1968), 279.
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8 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Trans. Marie Borroff. Norton Anthology of British Literature Vol. 1, New York: WW Norton, 1993.
The poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, tells of one knights struggle to uphold the code of chivalry. What makes a knight a noble knight? Why does this social standard force us to hold this individual to higher expectations? What should we think about Sir Gawain when he breaks his vows in Sir Gawain and The Green Knight? How does Sir Gawain and Arthur’s court pass the test of The Green Knight? This paper will argue that Sir Gawain, despite his mistakes, is the greatest knight because of his repentance and the lesson he learns when he encounters The Green Knight.
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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Sixth Edition, Volume One. General Ed. M.H. Abrams. New York: Norton, 1993.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a poem which tells the tale of a knight who undergoes trials-testing the attributes of knighthood-in order to prove the strength and courage of himself, while representing the Knights of the Round Table. One of King Arthurs most noblest and bravest of knights, Sir Gawain, is taken on an adventure when he steps up to behead a mysterious green visitor on Christmas Day-with the green mans’ permission of course. Many would state that this tale of valor would be within the romance genre. To the modern person this would be a strange category to place the poem in due to the question of ‘where is the actual romance, where is the love and woe?’ However, unlike most romances nowadays, within medieval literature there are many defining features and characteristics of a romance-them rarely ever really involving love itself. Within medieval literature the elements of a romance are usually enshrouded in magic, the fantastic and an adventure. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight follows Sir Gawain over the course of one year, from one New Years to the next, as was the deal he and Bertilak, the green knight, struck.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Trans. Brian Stone. The Middle Ages, Volume 1A. Eds. Christopher Baswell and Anne Howland Schotter. The Longman Anthology of British Literature. Fourth ed. Gen.eds David Damrosch, and Kevin J. H. Dettmar. New York: Pearson-Longman, 2010. 222-77. Print.