Made to Order Hero

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Made to Order Hero
Many times in life we encounter an individual that touches us in some profound way. The relation of this individual to the person they are influencing is as diverse as the personal experiences that causes this admiration. This individual, or hero, can impact and totally change the direction of someone's life. A hero can be anyone, from a professional athlete, to a public service figure, to a relative or parent. Each hero is defined by an individual's definition of what a hero is and should be. The definition of a hero has not always been this liberal. As time and the world have progressed so has the definition of the word hero. The poems Beowulf and Sir Gawin and the Green Knight are shining examples of how the definition of a hero can change. Using these two poems I will demonstrate the fact that the standards that need to be met, or the heroic code, is an ever-changing definition that evolves and adapts with the progression of time.

Beowulf and Sir Gawain are both considered heroes by their peers, but they must both conform to a different set of standards to maintain their identity as a hero. Each set of standards seems representative of the times in which each story takes place. The story of Beowulf takes place before the story of Gawain, in a time that is more primitive and violent era, a time when manhood and heroism were defined by the way of the sword and not the way of the word. Gawain on the other hand, appears to dwell in a place and time that puts more emphasis on honoring one’s word and not on proving ones self with a weapon. Beowulf can be considered pre-Christian, thus naturally he followed a more barbaric, violent code. Gawain seems to abide by the Christian code of values, possibly influenced by the church and the Bible. Gawain seems to make an effort to be more noble and less like a savage. This is proven throughout the Gawain poem as the setting and attire appear far more sophisticated and proper than in the Beowulf poem. “Perhaps the repeated emphasis on complex design and lavish display is enough to imply a date towards the end of the century” (Vantuono XVII). The end of the 14th century places Gawain in a time that had been influenced by the Christian belief, therefore explaining why he tends to follow a heroic code that places emphasis on being proper, kno...

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...its me here;
So did our covenant stand
In Arthur’s court last year-
Wherefore, sir, hold your hand! (Longman 2327-2330)

Gawian makes his mark as a hero of the Arthurian period by standing by his word even though he had several opportunities to run away and hide from the Green Knight. Gawain knew that dishonor was far more devastating than any death could ever be, thus making Gawain a hero to those around him.
Both Beowulf and Gawain were heroes to those they lived with. Beowulf became a hero by having no fear, facing all adversity without apprehension. Beowulf fights in order to be a hero. Gawain, on the other hand, establishes his place as a hero by living by a more Christlike code. He hunts down the Green Knight in order to fulfill his promise, even though he knows it means his death. This makes him a hero to those in King Arthur’s court.

Works Cited

Damrosh, David. The Longman Anthology of British Literature. Vol 1. “Beowulf” and “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”.
Addison-Wesley Educational Publishers. 2003

Vantuono, William. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. University of Notre Dame Press. Notre Dame, IL. 1999

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