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Motif in Sir Gawain And The Green Knight Essay


Sir Gawain and the Green Night

Death is the permanent termination of all functions of life in an individual. Death is about confronting the frightening manifestation of ones final tribulation. In turn, death is a part of life that many people do not want to experience. Imagine a world in which there was no death, no closure, no growing old. It would be like a movie with no ending, a song with no chorus, without death life would not be complete. No one knows when death is creeping up around the corner awaiting ones impending last breath; hence most people avoid contemplating death until its right at their door. One way of coping with this fatality is ones faith. No matter what religion an individual has, faith assists with the belief that they can face their fears of suffering. This fear contains the power to strip a man from his manliness and strip a great knight from his greatness. Fear of dying can destroy even the noblest of knights until they are weakened by cowardice. England in the 1400s was much like Rome in the 470s, due the fact that they were both empires doomed to fall. Such an empire consists of King Arthurs Camelot. This kingdom did not contain a religion or spiritual connection, therefore when it came time to protecting their king, the knights did not have the faith to face death. In the epic poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the author uses a widely amount of figurative language to illustrate this unremitting theme of death.

Seasons are a recurring motif that provides the reader a timeframe in which death will be bestowed upon the characters. As each season is changing, time is constantly passing and Gawain comes to realize that his time will soon be up and theres nothing he can do to escape it; his lids are lowed but he sleeps very little as each crow of the cock brings his destiny closer (1V,2008). Essentially summer is a reference to the warmth of life and winter is the cold depths of death. Once the weather changes, Gawains physiological state changes as well: Then autumn arrives to harden the harvest and with it comes the warning to ripen before winter(11. 520). One can compare the severity of the harsh winter weather to the heaviness of Gawains subconscious as he gets closer to death. For instance, before leaving to travel to find the Green Knight, Camelot has pleasant weather, where Gawain rejoices with friends and is proud about defending his King. But while on Gawains quest, the weather worsens along with Gawans mood: His mood and manner change at every twist and turn towards that chosen church (11.710). Winter is the time when Gawain has to realize his fate and travel to his looming doom.

Throughout this poem, the author utilizes the characters as tools to aid in the building of the reality of death. The way in which the author paints the physical individuality of the two ladies at Bertilacks castle illustrates this concept of life and death:

Those ladies were not the least bit alike,

one woman was young, one withered by years.

The body of the beauty seemed to bloom with blood,

the cheeks of the crone were wattled and slack. (11. 950)

The character of Lady Bertilak embodies youth in the fact that behind every woman there is a beautiful tempting lady, while the age of the old crone denotes the starkness of reality reveals how all worldly things are temporary. The reader can also take note that Gawain pays more attention to the young lady then he does the other. This corresponds to the fact that individuals find youthfulness and beauty more tempting than they do foul and unsightly ageing. It also demonstrates how individuals would value life more than they do death. Sir Gawains character reveals great metaphorical reference to death as well. Hence, Gawain presents humility and that being a strong noble man will not always give an individual deliverance from death.

The three hunts of the deer, the boar and the fox act as symbols to Gawains capability to find his inner strength and attempt to survive death. These animals all fight for their lives, as Gawain fights against the temptations of Lady Bertilak. The first of the hunts is the deer which represents Gawains struggle to outrun death and what God has destined for him. In turn, he is like an animal being hunted, having to fear for his life. His attempt to avoid death was to break free from the seductive Lady Bertilak. For instance, she stealthily climbs into his bed trying to seduce him. The knight pretends that he is asleep in an effort to escape a sin that he would commit if he were to give into her bewitching. By fleeing from the predator, he is attempting to outrun death, furthermore god; So stirred and stretched, turned to his side, lifted his eyelid and, looked alarmed, signed himself hurriedly with his hand, as if saving his life (111. 1200-1203). The next hunt is the boar which represents Gawains attempt to fight death. It has a determination to remain alive, just as Lady Bertilak was more determined than ever to seduce Sir Gawain. While he was slowly losing his fight with Lady Bertilak, Gawain was slowly losing his fight with god. She plays on his reputation of being a dutiful knight, showing that being strong does not aid in enduring death:

If this is Gawain who greets me, I am galled

that a man so dedicated to doing his duty

cannot heed the first rule of honorable behavior, (11. 1481)

The last hunt was of the fox, the longest and most significant. The fox uses his cunning to escape the clutches of his hunters but eventually is confined. The hunt took 3 days, just like how Jesus took three days to rise after being crucified. Gawain, identical to a fox, seeks to deceitfully outsmart God and escape death but inevitably captured. By accepting Lady Bertilaks gifts he gives in to the bait which marks his fate and breaks his own oath of honor. At the end of the poem the author illustrates how both Bertilak and his wife were expert hunters and Gawain was the prey.

In conclusion, death is an uncontrollable and natural occurrence that can either build someones character or destroy it. No matter how hard an individual attempts to counter his death, he can never escape his destiny. The author of Sir Gawain and The Green Knight utilizes many plots, images and characters to illustrate the continuous journey of life to death.

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