Essay, Research Paper: Gawain Heroes

Literature: Beowulf

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Sir Gawain existed in late medieval England, where romance and folklore was
prevalent, while Beowulf lived in the times when the Anglo-Saxon’s migrated,
hence the narrator’s visions both differed from what they believed constituted
a true hero. “Beowulf” written as an epic poem, dictates the idea of a hero
as someone who is viewed as a savior to his people. Beowulf has one duty: he
must fight to win. If he succeeds, he is a hero, if he fails he would be viewed
a failure. The narrator illustrates a hero as a loyal, honorable, and courageous
person, all of which Beowulf exemplifies. Beowulf risks his life countless times
for immortal glory and for the good of his people. Beowulf’s ability to put
his people before himself, mark him honorable. He encounters hideous monsters
and the most ferocious of beasts, but never fears the threat of death. His power
surmounts twenty men in one arm alone, additionally his leadership qualities
make him a superb hero in the eyes of his fellow men. For example, when Beowulf
is fighting Grendel’s mother, who is seeking revenge on her son’s death, he
is able to slay her by slashing the monster’s neck with a Giant’s sword that
can only be lifted by a person as strong as Beowulf. When he chops off her head,
he carries it from the ocean with ease, but it takes four men to lift and carry
it back to Herot mead-hall. This strength is a key trait of Beowulf's heroism.
His loyalty and the ability to think of himself last, allows all to view him
with the utmost respect. Beowulf ventured out to help the Danes with complete
sincerity, an unusual occurrence in the time of war and widespread fear. He set
a noble example for all humans relaying the necessity of brotherhood and
friendship. His loyal and courageous attributes are what set him apart from
someone who can merely kill a monster. In the final line, the narrator clearly
acknowledges Beowulf’s true kingship, “They said that he was of world-kings
the mildest of men and the gentlest, kindest to his people, and most eager for
fame.” Beowulf’s ability to put his people’s welfare before his own
exemplifies his strong belief in fate. His belief is, if he dies in battle it is
because his destiny was to do so. He always explains his death wishes before
going into battle and requests to have any assets delivered to his people.
“And if death does take me, send the hammered mail of my armor to Higlac,
return the inheritance I had from Hrehtel, and from Wayland.” Beowulf is aware
he will be glorified in life or death for his actions. He knows that when he
fights an enemy like Grendel or Grendel’s mother he will achieve immortality
as the victor or the loser. Even with the enormous amount of confidence Beowulf
possesses, he understands fate will work it’s magic and he could be killed at
any point in his life. He faces reality by showing no fear and preparing for a
positive or fatal outcome. Stated by Beowulf in the text, “Fate will unwind as
it must!” In this line he realizes the dangers of battle, but fears nothing
for his own life. In comparison the narrator in “Sir Gawain and The Green
Knight” links heroism to chivalry, which includes bravery, honor and courtesy.
Sir Gawain shows his bravery by shying away from nothing and no one. He proves
his honor and courtesy to everyone he meets by showing respect to all whether or
not he receives it back. He in the end proves he is a “true” Knight. In
medieval England the idea of fighting for others survival was no longer the
primary focus, instead the hero fought for his own ideals, which is evident in
“Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”. Yet a romantic hero can be described
almost as an epic one; he is loyal, honorable and courageous. The knight,
however, must possess courtly skills and be careful not to be led into
temptation by ulterior motives. His task can be looked upon, perhaps, as
spiritual rather than physical, as shown in Beowulf, because Gawain’s setting
implies a state of peace and harmony. The knight never truly sets out to defeat
another character. Each confrontation to Sir Gawain lies within himself,
particularly when the wife of the Green Knight temps him with lustful notions.
Sir Gawain’s bravery is first evident when the Green Knight enters King
Arthur’s Court. The Green Knight taunts the people with the question, does
anyone dare to take his axe, but first allow him to give the brave soul an
well-aimed stroke with it to the neck? Sir Gawain concerned himself with this
burden and took the ax from the knight. Gawain knew by doing so he would have to
find the Green Knight and receive a blow to his neck in return. Many felt Sir
Gawain would not return if he ventured forth and fulfilled his obligations.
Gawain accepts this, knowing on his travel he more than likely will be put to
death, yet he risked his final crusade with the greatest bravery. He accepts
these terms and gives the Green Knight his axe without haste. As time passes,
eventually Sir Gawain realizes he must begin his fated search and find the Green
Knight and his chapel. In welcoming the Green Knight’s challenge he shows his
honor to the whole court. Though many adversities he faced, Gawain still went
on. “And at that holy tide, He pray with all his might, That Mary may be his
guide, Til a dwelling comes in sight.” (II, 736-739), all to fulfill his
promise to the Green Knight. He felt his honor and faith would lead him to a
castle. Gawain courteously asks for shelter and tells the castle’s court of
his crusade. Gawain pleased, made companionship with the king. The king fond of
Gawain made an agreement with him. The proposed agreement to prove his honor was
“Whatever I earn in the woods I will give you at eve, And all you have earned
you must offer to me.” (II, 1106-1107) Sir Gawain is very courteous in all he
does especially while in the company of the king. He is tempted daily by the
king’s wife. The lady was to be aggressive in order to gain Gawain’s love
for her, but he had much control of the situation, yet still managed to give her
everything she asked for in a courteous polite manner. Sir Gawain appears to be
incapable and thoughtless at first, but slowly proves himself by his subtle
actions. Sir Gawain represents loyalty along with an unclear purpose. He must
put his life before the king’s and fulfill duties that are not always demanded
of him. Sir Gawain is a hero only if he can face his failures. He demonstrates
his heroism when he admits his mortality and imperfections in these lines: “I
can’t deny my guilt; my works shine none to fair! Give me your good will, and
henceforth I’ll beware.” The ages in which these stories were written plays
a major part in the messages the narrators are trying to convey. Beowulf was
probably written around 400 A. D. when the main idea was survival of the
fittest. The monsters Beowulf fought were actual monsters, and he battled
against plague, disease, hunger, and thieves, who would stop at nothing. Being
the story paralleled the Anglo-Saxon way of living they would have never been
able to relate to Sir Gawain and his struggles internally. Sir Gawain’s time
was by far less threatening. King Arthur was in charge, and every day seemed to
be like one right out of a fairy tale. They ignored and forgot monsters,
dragons, or plagues; there were only noble men, and great feasts. With no
obvious threat on Camelot, King Arthur’s knights surely had to find some
alternative way to prove their chivalry. In conclusion to the heroic traits of
both characters everything Beowulf was for his time, Sir Gawain was for his.
They both understood glory and at the same time, defeat.
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