Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

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SIR GAWAIN and the GREEN KNIGHT

In the Middle Ages, a time of brave knights and fair maidens, chivalry was alive and well, and honor meant much more than just pride. A man could be expected to be as good as his word, and God was an integral part of his life. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the title character sets off on a month-long quest for the Green Chapel in fulfillment of a promise made a year earlier, knowing full well that it could mean certain death. After the knight's final days at the court of King Arthur are recounted, he sets off in "country wild" where he is "far off from all his friends" (lines 713-14). This lonely road on which he rides reflects the nature of his quest--Gawain's conflict is within himself, and is something which he must deal with on his own.

On the long, arduous journey, the brave knight battles countless foes to the point where "to tell but the tenth part would tax [the author's] wits" (719). All manner of fearsome foes are described, from serpents and wolves to wild men and giants. However, he has "borne himself bravely, and been on God's side" (724), and therefore makes it through all these trials intact.

The description of the locations where Sir Gawain is forced to sleep on some nights calls to mind the dwelling of Grendel's mother from Beowulf--cold, gloomy, rocky, and generally unpleasant. Gawain bears it all with stoic patience and fortitude, though he is "near slain" by the inclement weather. Finally, on Christmas Eve, Gawain "prays with all his might/That Mary may be his guide/Till a dwelling comes in sight" (737-39). This prayer underlines the parallel between Gawain's plight on this Christmas Eve and Mary's own search for lodging on the night of the first Christmas.

On Christmas morning, he arrives in a foreboding forested area, "a man all alone" in a "marsh and mire" where "birds unblithe upon bare twigs/Peeped most piteously for pain of the cold." (The cold loneliness stands in contrast to the warmth and companionship he is to find in Bercilak's castle later on in the story.) Here he again prays mournfully--this time that he may be able to attend the Christmas mass. His first thoughts are not for his own safety, nor for his reputation should he not find the Green Chapel in time.

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