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Sacrifice in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
There are many different types of heroism that exist among the heroes of past and present. Heroism usually is thought of as battling and triumphing over an obstacle, or conquest of a fair-maiden’s love. But notice what this passage from the Mahabharata says about “The True Hero.”
Heroes of many kinds are proclaimed: hear from me, then, their goals. Rewards are assigned to the families of heroes and also to the hero himself. Heroes of sacrifice, heroes of self-control; others who are heroes of truth; heroes of battle are also proclaimed, and men who are heroes of giving. Others are heroes of intellect, and heroes of patience are others; and also heroes of honesty, and men who live in tranquility . . . There are forest-dwelling heroes, and householder heroes, and heroes in the honoring of guests. (Mahabharata XIII.74.22-27)
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight encompasses every point brought out in the Mahabharata about what a hero truly is.
Sacrifice is a quality that many persons choose to ignore. But Sir Gawain, throughout the book, magnified this virtue to its extent, even to the brink of death. When the Green Knight challenged the knights of King Arthur for a game, and King Arthur volunteered, it was Sir Gawain who stepped in. Sir Gawain was quick to explain to Arthur, “When a challenge like this rings through your hall/To take it yourself . . . For battle. Think of your bold knights,/My life the least, my death no loss. . .” (58). Of course all of King Arthur’s knights were valuable to the kingdom, so the phrase of “my death no loss,” merely meant that the kingdom of King Arthur would continue without Sir Gawain, but it would not continue with the death King Arthur.
Sacrifice continued to play a part even to the halfway point of the book and beyond. Such as that of sacrificing the pleasures of a woman which quite possibly was the greatest of all sacrifices, one that we know Sir Lancelot would have failed at miserably. This sacrifice would indeed save Sir Gawain’s life at the end of the story. Throughout the three days spent in Bercilak’s castle, Morgana tried to seduce him, but each and every time he refused (86-90).
From line 1830-1865 (104) we read of one moment that Sir Gawain’s virtuous ways faltered.
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Finally, there is the danger that is present in all of us, and that is “stereotyping” people, or ideas that may be foreign to our way of thinking. When Sir Gawain came upon the so-called “chapel,” he immediately said, “. . . the green knight,/He could serve the devil here. . .” And then condemning it further Sir Gawain said, “What an evil church. . .” (116). Calling a place evil just because of its designs, or lack of design, is ignorance.
Today, we must learn sacrifice because of growing problems in our society, such as selfishness and materialism. If Sir Gawain was selfish he would have said, “Let Arthur have the battle.” And, “Hey, I’ll take the girl. Her word against mine.” Or even, “Hmmm, if she wants to give me a ring, who am I to argue.”
Individuals must also refrain from stereotyping individuals or ideas. This is a major problem today, which can lead to hostilities between people. We can see this everyday in the news; hate crimes, racism, and with murder.
Much can we learned from the book Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, but one thing all of us need to practice and that is sacrifice.