Sir Gawain is King Arthur’s nephew and one of his most faithful knights. Although Gawain modestly refutes it, he has a reputation of being an honorable knight and courtly man. He prides himself on his adherence of the five parts of chivalry and is a pinnacle display of humility, piety, integrity, loyalty, and honesty that all other knights strive for. Though Gawain sits at the high table during the New Year’s celebration at Arthur’s court, he defines himself as the least of King Arthur’s knights in terms of both physical ability and mental aptitude. Gawain continually seeks to better improve his inner self throughout the story. His only known flaw proves to be his love to preserve his own life, so much that he will sacrifice his honor in order to save himself.
When the Green Knight arrives at Camelot, he challenges Arthur’s court, mocking the knights for being afraid of mere words, and suggesting that words and appearances hold too much power with them. Although the Green Knight basically tricks Gawain, by not telling him about his supernatural capabilities before asking him to agree to his terms, Gawain refuses to withdraw of their agreement. He stands by his commitments, even though it means putting his own life in jeopardy. The poem habitually restates Sir Gawain’s deep fears and apprehensions, but Gawain desires to maintain his own individual integrity at all costs which allows him to master his fears in his quest to seek the Green Chapel. After Gawain arrives at Bertilak’s castle, it is quite obvious that h...
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...stops him from sleeping with Bertilak’s wife, only until his finds a way to avoid death does he goes against them. What Gawain learns from the green knight’s challenge is that instinctively he is just a human who is concerned with his own life over anything else. Chivalry does provide a valuable set of rules and ideals toward which one to strive for, but a person must remain aware of their own mortality and weaknesses. Sir Gawain’s flinching at the green knight’s swinging ax, his time in the woods using animal nature requiring him to seek shelter to survive and his finally accepting the wife’s gift of the girdle teaches him that though he may be the most chivalrous knight in the land, he is nevertheless human and capable of error.
Damrosch, D. , & Pike, D. L. (Eds.). (2008). The Longman Anthology: World Literature. New York, NY: Pearson Education Inc.
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