Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Sir Gawain: A Uniquely Tragic Christian Hero

Three codes of conduct suffuse "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight": chivalry, honor, and Christian faith. As his mystical pentangle attests, Gawain begins his quest under the auspicious perfection of all three; however, after endeavoring through ineffable adversity and countless trials, he is exposed to be strikingly human. The faults laid bare- though few- haunt him terribly and the consolation offered by the Green Knight and King Arthur's court is of no comfort. In fact, their responses to Gawain's failings are so disconnected from the protagonist's own sentiments that they elucidate a misunderstanding of the true nature and depth of his remorse. Gawain's intense shame is not founded on chivalric faults or promissory dishonor; rather, it is based on the Christian concept of original sin. By accepting the green girdle, Gawain commits the sin of pride and is forced to realize that he will never be able to reach the state of prelapsarian perfection for which he strives.

Gawain's own description shows that his iniquity stems from the undue weight he placed on his own life. In his desperation to preserve himself from almost certain decapitation at the axe of the Green Knight, he sacrifices faith for...

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