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Gawain as a Hero Essay

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Updated: Apr 5th, 2021

A hero is regarded as any individual who possesses exceptional and outstanding qualities, especially in circumstances where others have contemplated failure or given up. In other words, a hero is somebody who does an outstanding action that many people would not dare to try. Gawain can be considered as a hero in this poem due to his unique displays of determination, self-control and humility throughout the plot of the poem (Thomas 7).

Gawain finds himself in tough situations that can jeopardize his life but his daring character keeps him on course to fulfill his promise of an immortal character. Like most heroes, he has his own weaknesses but the exemplary display and determination overshadows his shortcomings. He ends up being recognized in the whole Camelot city and reveals certain secrets that have long been unknown to many residents of the state.

As the immortal Green Knight appears at Arthur’s Christmas party, all the knights at the round table are frightened. The fear is further increased by the challenge the Green Knight pauses and whose ultimate prize is not known by anyone. None of the knights who are considered to be the toughest military figures dare to take the challenge, “and none among them all dare answer speedily” (Stone line 437).

Gawain, to everyone’s surprise steps up to take the challenge to save Arthur’s face. This definitely brings out the his courageous character. He is willing to take on a mighty giant regardless of the risk lying ahead when everybody else is unwilling: “I pray thee of thy grace, be this adventure mine!” (Alfred & James line 519).

Gawain also proves to be a hero when he chops off the head of the Green Knight in a single stroke. He puts his life on the scales with the hope that the Green Knight would die in this fight. Nevertheless, he is willing to keep the promise he made to the Green Knight and is ready to have whatever he did on the Green Knight be done on him at an agreed place, “That stroke for counter-stroke with me exchange” (Alfred & James line 582). This is a unique action that none of the military knights could perform, and this makes Gawain a true hero.

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It is obvious that he is lucky enough to find Bertilak who offers him accommodation as he awaits the fateful encounter with the immortal knight. However, it is at the Bertilak’s castle that he finds a real test for his self-control. Bertilak’s wife freely offers herself to Gawain: “Do though in bed abide, and take thine ease I pray” (Alfred & James line 1026).

She does all she can when the husband is away to spend a night with Gawain as it is later revealed that it was a planned trap to test Gawain’s lustful power. Gawain is not aware of the plan but is wise enough to find his way out and by so doing he proves to be a hero again, as he is strong enough to avoid the temptations from this lady and not to betray his host who has been so generous to him.

He manages to coil around and only accepts a kiss daily from the lady. This again saves him of the trap ahead of him when Bertilak suggests that they offer to each other their daily spoils. While Bertilak brings game meat to Gawain daily, she is paid back with a kiss from Gawain since this is what he gets from the wife: “Whate’er in wood I win, the profit thine shall be, what cheer though shall achieve, halt give me” (Alfred & James line 1058).

One could wonder what Gawain would have paid back with should he had fallen for the sexual favors from Bertilak’s tempting wife. Here, he is regarded a hero by the society not only for managing his lust but also for taking the best option that saved him from falling into Bertilak’s trap.

The final encounter with the Green Knight is blood curdling and chilling. In fact, when Gawain is about to meet the knight, the guide accompanying him promises not to let out the secret if Gawain changes his mind and turns down the earlier promise made to the Knight of which Gawain declines: ”whereof, Gawain good, let this man alone” (Alfred & James line 1088).

Gawain is so terrified on the first occasion when the Knight tries to wield the ax until the Knight is forced to pull back and he demands for more courage from him. The hero Gawain does not even flinch on the second attempt when the knight tries a blow on him. In a surprising turn of events, it is Gawain who urges the knight to go through with it and fulfill the promise. It is interesting how Gawain has built up courage to face the giant Green Knight and the promise is fulfilled as earlier stated.

Thus, Gawain is considered a hero for his massive courage and determination to meet the Knight’s challenge. His journey to the meeting point was made amidst hunger, cold, and desperation. Any other person could have contemplated giving up but Gawain kept to his course. Above all, he remained optimistic that nothing bad would befall him and that he would live to retell the story in Camelot. It indeed takes a hero to do this.

Finally, Gawain meets his prize and takes back the good news. King Arthur is surprised by the revelations from Gawain’s journey and encounter. When Gawain sets out for the encounter he had nothing for his protection unlike the Knight who seemed to possess supernatural skills.

Hence, the chances of him surviving the ordeal and coming back to Camelot (Greenblatt 2006). The Green Knight had promised to pay back with equal intensity whatever the challenge involved and now that Gawain chopped off the Knight’s head, little was expected of him since he had no powers to return back the head like the Knight had done.

The whole Camelot is surprised when Gawain arrives back, and besides he brings forth news of the King’s kinsmen. No doubt, this is good news to the king and explains why all the military knights wear girdles around their wrists in honor of Gawain. Although they do not know the events that led Gawain to wear the girdle, they freely agree to wear the girdle to show respect and appreciation for him.

This treatment by the knights towards Gawain shows the heroic concern accorded to him for his daring spirit to go yonder, fight and bring forth secrets of the king’s lineage. He definitely qualifies to be a hero for his accomplishment (Greenblatt 2006).

Everyone is left wondering what Gawain’s next course of action will be. His ambition and determination leave everyone surprised. For instance, why should he put his life on the line to save King Arthur? He sets out to meet the Green Knight with little information about him and he is still determined to his course even when he knows that the end result might be the loss of his life.

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It is evident that he is doing this for fame and building a reputation for himself. He then qualifies to be called a hero in the society when he opens up to the Knight and accepts to have not offered to the knight everything he got from Bertilak’s wife.

Gawain also confesses and repents of his sin and agrees to wear the girdle as a sign of his sins and begs the Knight to pardon him: “Thy plea I beseech” (Alfred & James line 2034). Furthermore, the Knight notes that Gawain values his life more than being honest implying that Gawain is also concerned about his reputation and the public opinion about him (Burrow 2005).

It is the public reputation that makes a hero and Gawain like any other individual with heroic ambitions pays much attention to the outward reputation and this is definitely the reason why Gawain repents of his sins and seeks forgiveness since he knows the Knight might reveal the same in Camelot.

In this case, he is regarded as a hero since he accepts his weakness and makes an effort to make a good name. Very few people can make such a decision like that taken by Gawain given that only the Green Knight and he knew of this trap to test his integrity.

Works Cited

Alfred, David & James Simpson. The Norton Anthology: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 2006. Print.

Burrow, James. A Reading of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. London, UK: Kegan Paul Ltd., 2005. Print.

Greenblatt, Stephen. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, London, UK: W.W. Norton and Co., 2006. Print.

Stone, Brian. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. London, UK: Penguin, 2004.Print.

Thomas, Gary. Your Research Project. New York, NY: Sage, Rudestam & Newton, 2009. Print.

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