Symbolism in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Essay

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Symbolism in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

From the first time I read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight I have been troubled by the question of whether or not Sir Gawain was right or wrong in lying in order to keep the girdle and save his life. He was torn between honesty and his own life. The question he was forced to ask himself was "what did he value more: his honesty or his life? Many scholars have struggled with this question for centuries, as well as the questions of why Gawain made the decision that he did, how guilty he "really" felt for his actions, and what the poet is trying to tell the reader through Gawain's ordeal.

When I was growing up I was told to always be honest. I was only "grounded" twice in my lifetime:
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It may be even more difficult to place an overriding significance on the value of honesty in light of life's alternative: death.

"...images of death permeate the medieval world" (Clien. 55).

A modern reader of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight should gain an understanding of what death means within the "cultural milieu" which surrounded the Gawain writer. Wendy Clein in her book "Concepts of Chivalry in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" describes the chivalric approach to death as an uncomfortable and awkward marriage between the warrior's code on one side and Christianity of the the antithetical side. The warrior code calls for the knight to "defy death in acts of heroism and thereby gain worldly fame" (55). However, the Christian doctrine demands that the knight surrender worldly fame and accept death as a "passage from this imperfect world to eternity" (55).

If knight is to gain fame and fulfill the warrior code that is so deeply engrained into the psyche of a warrior, he must play with death. This is what war and tournaments are all about. It is about looking death in the eye and not flinching. Once a knight can do this he has fulfilled the warrior code of a knight, at least for the moment.

The Christian approach to death is much different from the warrior approach to death. While some parts of the poem may appear be simply
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