Heroism is a trait that we seem to have no problem identifying, yet
when asked to define what a hero is a myriad of answers emerge. This
phenomenon is not unique to today’s society; the definition of a hero
is something that is constantly under revision and debate. An example
of this can be seen in two older pieces of English literature: Beowulf,
written circa 750-900, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, written
circa 1375-1400. These stories both have a main character that
possesses heroic qualities, many of which are very similar. Gawain’s
identity as a hero is not clearly demonstrated, but when compared with
Beowulf, who is demonstrated to be a hero, hiss merits earn him that
title as well.
Exactly what defines a heroic act, or a hero for that matter? Often
times we dismiss the question due to its complex nature. But when
confronted with an individual with heroic qualities we readily
identify them as a hero. So what set of traits makes up this
amorphous definition that we call hero? I would agree that the very
definition is one that is dependent upon the time and society in which
its context is being used. A person who shot someone to save the life
of another may be viewed as a hero under the scrutiny of one culture,
but in a different time or location the very opposite may be true.
Nevertheless, heroes exist and posses these ever changing heroic
qualities. Beowulf is clearly demonstrated to be a hero, and we can
observe the qualities he possesses to enable him to have that title.
While Sir Gawain’s heroic accomplishments are a little more debatable,
I would argue that he deserves the same title; he exudes qualities
which can be consider...
... middle of paper ...
...is days lamenting
his decision to use the girdle, so he isn’t ignorant of what he as
done. Secondly, there is absolutely nothing heroic about dying
without a cause, which is what would have been the case had the Green
Knight carried out his threat. I see no harm done in preparing
oneself for an encounter such as the one he went through. We often
laude heroes for their cunning in wisdom, so why should those same
traits in Gawain be looked upon negatively?
While there are many more facets to declaring someone a hero, these
are a few that both Beowulf and Gawain share. Beowulf demonstrates
that its namesake is a man who is supposed to be regarded as a hero.
This same intent is not made in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, but
when the two are compared with each other, Sir Gawain is shown to be a
hero, not a simple coward that he may initially appear to be.
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