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The Archetype Of Heroism In Sir Gawain And The Green Knight

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In terms of the literary archetype, the quintessential attributes of heroism are fundamentally connected with distinctive courage, utmost respect and honor, fulfilling all extrinsic duties, and strictly obeying one’s faction of behavior. All of these aforementioned qualities create the ultimate heroic experiences but can falter due to ineluctable human imperfections. Through assessing literature, the recurring patterns are distinctly pontificated upon through the examples of previous archetypes which shine light to the idea of a hero. Although these archetypes often follow patterns of similarity, they also create a sense of individualism. Upon analysis of Sir Gawain and The Green Knight, the archetypal heroic qualities are embedded within Sir Gawain’s character through his affiliation with the Round Table. Within the trials and tribulations of Gawain, he exhibits moral dilemmas that ultimately mold and implicitly demonstrate his quintessential aspiration of heroism.

Sir Gawain’s qualities are contrastable due to numerous societal influences yet comparable to the basis sense of structure. Sir Gawain is governed by this code, therefore his pursuit of the Green Knight tested his bravery and duty of keeping his word of accepting the Green Knight’s challenge. Gawain’s courageous and brave efforts are explicitly demonstrated by his acceptance of the challenge to protect King Arthur and face the Green Knight. Sir Gawain faces dutiful task when confronted with the Green Knight in King Arthur’s court. The Green Knight’s questions the reputation of Arthur’s followers further referring to them as cowards until Gawain accepts the challenge himself “I beseech, before all here, That this melee may be mine” (W. A. Neilson, p. 65, Lines 341-342). Gawain was unsolicited for this “cowardness”, yet his bravery obligates himself to safeguard the king, as “the loss of my life would be least of any” (W. A. Neilson, p. 165, Line 355), dictating his life insubstantial to the King. The chivalric code enveloped Gawain’s life as the standards and conducts were strictly to be followed and religiously adhered to. Thus, even Gawain’s ethical judgements and actions were graded according to the practiced code. Gawain is ultimately tested again during his pursuit through his encounter with the lord of the chapel’s wife as numerous cases of seduction and desires were attempted to bait Gawain to lose control. Sir Gawain’s demonstrates his self control avoiding the beastial temptations and impulses further recognizing his self control and strength, “And you are the noblest knight known in your time…And here by your side I have sat for two days Yet never has a fair phrase fallen from your lips Of the language of love, not one little word”(W. A. Neilson, p. 189, Lines 1520-1524). This is a true distinctive quality of the heroic archetype, being unquestionably one of the most defining contrasts as Gawain exemplifies the epitome of a hero. In summation, it is through the inner dilemmas that test Gawain’s adherence to the chivalric code as encountered the Lady and being dutiful to sustaining his promise to the Green Knight that proved Gawain’s heroism.

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After being truthful to his word and accepting the blows from the Green Knight, Gawain survives the encounter and is criticized for preserving the girdle. Gawain is despondent with himself, ascertaining the sources of his covetnousness as fear, to save himself from death with the green girdle. This covetousness and fear resulted in him contravening the terms of his agreement with Bertilak proving Gawain unfair and dishonest. Gawain recognizes these vices as irregular to his character, which further indicates that Gawain set superior standards upon himself and proclaims to the Green Knight his reasoning begging forgiveness. However, in Christian ethics, they view sin as an inevitable core of human beings that mistakes and failures are bound to occur, “I am the weakest, well I know, and of wit feeblest; And the loss of my life would be least of any;” (W. A. Neilson p. 165, Lines 354-355). The reserved girdle conduced the axe to damage and splice Gawain’s neck commensurating Gawain’s covet for the girdle to damage and splice their agreement for his unfair and dishonest actions in their exchange. The implicit message which Gawain inculcates from his “spiritual” journey was his inevitable bound for mistakes and failures like everyone else. Gawain obligates himself to wear the girdle as a symbol reminding him to abstain from disobedience. Overall, his destructive behavior ultimately resulted in his questioning of his dutifulness to the chivalric code, “For fear of thy knock cowardice taught me to make a truce with covetousness, to forsake my nature, which is generosity and loyalty, that belongs to knights. Now am I faulty and false, and a coward have ever been. From treachery and untruth ever come sorrow and care. Here I confess to you, knight, that my conduct is all faulty. Let me but please you now, and after I shall beware” (W. A. Neilson, p. 204, Lines 2379-2384). Gawain’s character shows human error after he drew back from the Green Knight’s axe, faltering his bravery as he is unable to handle the awful consequences and challenges from the Green Knight and his sinful actions. He was unable to comprehend coming to terms with the shame and disownment for his sinful actions disobeying the chivalric code. The knightly chivalry principles are implicitly represented through Gawain’s shield signifying the five virtues of: chastity, courtesy, piety, generosity, and fellowship. This quote implicitly inculcates the principles to Gawain demonstrating that his devotion to these virtues is tested along with his higher personal pursuits. Therefore, since Gawain was unable to adhere to all the principles, he disowned himself with guilt and humility that ultimately led to his questioning of the code. In summation, Gawain’s personal understandings from his difficulties with the intention of protecting his people guided him towards a better understanding of himself fundamentally proving his heroism and heroic qualities.

Christianity believes that sins may be forgiven, but Gawain’s perspective is despairing which implicitly demonstrates his fear with the effect of disobedience upon his character, status, and soul. Gawain views his dishonest and shameful behavior as a stain disowning himself as a forever shamed failure because according to his five-point value code because he broke the code of fellowship and purity. Therefore, since he broke the code of purity, Gawain feels as though he is unable to return the purity perdurs his soul eternally, “This is the evil and the loss that I have got from the cowardice and covetousness that I showed there. This is the token of untruth that I am taken in, and I must needs wear it while I may last; for none may hide his shame without mishap, for where it once is incurred, depart it will never” (W. A. Neilson, p. 208, Lines 2505-2518). Within his acceptance, Gawain understands his ultimate humility and his acceptance of doing better that resulted in the collective embrace of Gawain as a hero. Within the end of the poem, Neilson writes “Hony Soit Qui Mal Pence” which claims that all of the knights will destroy any who speak of shame upon Gawain in order to protect him for any ill-manner gossip of Gawain. They do so in order to prove their acceptance and affiliation with Gawain that is in the nature of man that these mistakes and failures are inevitable even to the most superior. However, this message teaches him that regardless of his status for the Round Table, he is still a human being capable of committing faults and mistakes, “They laugh loud at his tale, and lovingly agree that the lord and the ladies that belong to the band about him of a bright green, and wear that for the sake of the hero. And that emblem was accorded the renown of the Round Table, and he was ever after honoured that had it” (W. A. Neilson, p. 209, Lines 2529-2533). The enlightenment Gawain discovers from the Green Knight’s challenge is that despite his heroic nature, is values and virtues were constructive around preserving his life rather than adhering to his moral and ethical conduct of the chivalric code. The mindset of true heroes consist of remaining concentrated and that any inclination of divergence equates to being detrimental for their journey. His code of chivalry offers an important way of life that Gawain must adhere to daily and strive towards perfection with conscious of his own mortality and weakness. Sir Gawain, despite his flaws is most definitely deemed as a historical hero in literature with his good character that lead him on personal journeys and experiences of growth, humility, acceptance, maturation, and clarity all proved his heroism. In summation, through his journey, it showed the readers that even the superior and grandeur personalities will falter at point because of simple principles of human nature.

The poem outlines the overall character of Gawain through a lens of heroism according to his pursuit of the Green Knight and his numerous moral dilemmas that ultimately molded his character and proved his heroism. Through his numerous trials and tribulations, Gawain exhibited heroism through his pursuits and personal experiences which molded his character significantly for the better. Gawain’s pursuit of improving himself through experiences with the Green Knight and mistakes have shown to follow a similar pattern within archetypal heros with commonly valued heroic characteristics that are still common within today’s literature. Based on the premise of the code of chivalry and Gawain’s personal journey, he encountered numerous tests that ultimately proved his character and heroic qualities that will forever deem him a hero in literature.

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The Archetype Of Heroism In Sir Gawain And The Green Knight. (2021, August 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 29, 2023, from
“The Archetype Of Heroism In Sir Gawain And The Green Knight.” Edubirdie, 17 Aug. 2021,
The Archetype Of Heroism In Sir Gawain And The Green Knight. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 May 2023].
The Archetype Of Heroism In Sir Gawain And The Green Knight [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2021 Aug 17 [cited 2023 May 29]. Available from:
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