Essay on Temptation and Survival in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

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Temptation and Survival in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Gawain faces choices as part of the Green Knight's game. The game is not the simple exchange of axe blows as it appears to be. It is actually a game of temptation and rule-breaking. In the end, Gawain fails this test given by the Green Knight and King Arthur's half-sister.

When the Green Knight arrogantly rode into King Arthur's domain, he showed no respect for the celebrated knights. He rudely laughed away the praise he had heard of King Arthur as "the praise of you, prince, is puffed up so high" (Norton Anthology 1465). He also ridiculed the knights as they hesitated to accept his challenge. Gawain eventually accepted the challenge,
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Catherine Swanson wrote, "With the green-and-gold motif, the Green Knight represents a balance between nature and civilization; he is, after all, the same person as Bernlak, who is a perfect, courteous host" (Masterplots 6054). The green colors are nature and humanity's instincts of temptation and survival. The gold portion of the motif represents civilization and the restrictions and courtesies that come with it.

The test imposed by the knight was actually a test of whether Sir Gawain would give up civilization for nature. Would Gawain give in to the seductive lady of the castle or would he remain civilized as a knight should? The other part of the test showed whether he would choose to return the gifts given to him during his stay at Bernlak's castle. Of course, that's where the honorable knight failed.

As Sir Gawain endured the axe swings, he was ignorant of their meaning. Up to this point in the poem, he had accepted that he would die or somehow be protected by the magic girdle given to him. The first two strokes went by and represented the two days that he had followed the rules of civilization. The third swing that drew blood should have killed him because Gawain had taken something out of the castle that he was expected to return. The Green Knight wounded him to serve as a reminder that Gawain had retreated to his natural instinct instead of following the code of civilization.

Sir Gawain passed the test of seduction, but failed when

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