Sir Gawain And The Green Knight: Stanza 74

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In stanza 74, fit III, the lady of the castle offers a magical, green girdle to Sir Gawain and explains to him that the wearer of this corset "cannot be killed by any cunning on earth." Sir Gawain, amidst an ethical dilemma, accepts the gift and chooses to conceal it from Lord Bertilak. This passage contains three of the main themes of the story – the inner and outer conflicts between Sir Gawain’s ethics and desire to live, and the test of religion.

When Sir Gawain is offered the girdle, his knightly principles are questioned. The honorable thing would be to reject the offer or bring it to the lord of the castle, but Gawain places the preservation of his life ahead of chivalry. The knight has withstood the lady’s constant barrage of sexual advances, and kept his promise to the lord of the castle, but when the chance to save his life is presented, he snatches it up without a second thought. This point is shown by the way the author puts "Outright" on a line of it’s own, emphasizing Gawain’s quick decision. He is then ecstatic about the thought that he will survive his meeting with the knight the next day, shown by "often thanks gave he/ With all his heart and might." Later, Sir Gawain finds three faults in his actions, the first being his cowardice – in direct contrast to the main principles of knighthood, the second being his covetousness, his lust for life, and the third being his lack of faith in God. Even when it is shown that God has forgiven him by healing the wound on his neck, Sir Gawain still feels that he has sinned, and is not as willing to forgive himself. He decides that more atonement is in order, so he makes the decision to wear the girdle from then on, as a sign of his eternal sin, but even then he does not feel that he has been cleansed of his sin. He understands that he will be forced to bear the shame and disgrace of the sin for the rest of his life.

The observers’ opinions of whether Sir Gawain is forgiven are the complete opposite of Sir Gawain’s. In the passage, it is mentioned that the lady kissed the constant knight. The question arises as to the author’s meaning of constant. It is obvious that it does not mean that Gawain is constant in his moral decisions, as he just made an unethical decision. It also wouldn’t mean that he is determined or steadfast, for he just caved in to h...

... middle of paper ... a minor sin though; when the truth about the Green Knight is revealed, Sir Gawain is repentant, and his penance is served through the knick of Bertilak’s axe. Though technically Gawain fails the test when he gives into the lady’s temptations, he does well enough to pass in God’s eyes. As mentioned before, Sir Gawain is forgiven by God, as shown by the healing of the axe wound.

The combination of these three themes creates a complex moral dilemma for the antagonist, Sir Gawain. This perplexity asks the question of life versus religion; is it acceptable to forsake God to save one’s own life? In the poem, obviously, it would have been wiser for Gawain to have denied the gift of the girdle; denial of the offering would have been the more ethical, socially acceptable, and pious choice to make. Sir Gawain’s acquisition of the present is accepted by others and by God as only a minor fault, and that is the author’s point. When confronted with a complicated decision, the person making the judgment will always be either supported or forgiven by his peers and by God; that person must appease themselves, however, and make the decision that he or she feels is ethically and morally correct.