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Sir Gawain in “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” and Satan in “Paradise Lost”

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Sir Gawain in “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” and Satan in “Paradise Lost” essay
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Characters, in a story or poem, who undergo personal struggles and trials is not a new concept in literature and Sir Gawain in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight thought to be written by the Pearl Poet and Satan in Paradise Lost by John Milton are no exception. While Sir Gawain could be considered the hero in a positive tale demonstrating how personal mistakes and pride create struggles in oneself which can be accepted through the strength of forgiveness, Satan highlights the worst of selfishness, pride and disobedience that ultimately leads down the path to personal destruction. Both characters are faced with their own difficult situations and personal trials that are very similar, although they are vastly different, with dramatically different endings. Lessons that Sir Gawain and Satan can teach us is the importance of honesty and trust, the value of caution when it comes to pride in oneself, the power of obedience and forgiveness, and how choices develop our personal character to a final positive or negative conclusion.

Gawain is described as ‘one worthy and well liked’ (Norton, p. 197). He was “as good as the purest gold –devoid of vices and virtuous, loyal and kind” (Norton, p.199) and was described as a “knight most courteous’ (Norton, p.191) by king Arthur himself. He describes himself as the least of Arthur’s knights in terms of both physical prowess and mental ability and his modest claim testifies to his humility, Sir Gawain is indeed a good and noble knight. Gawain’s physical appearance, specifically his armor, is described in great detail in his story, including its color, makings, and apparel. Gawain’s armor is meant to serve as a tangible means of protecting both his physical and spiritual being. The shield has great spiritual values in the five-points of the pentangle. Representing the knight’s virtue, physical being, and protection of the knight’s inner soul. When this is stripped away at the host’s castle, the symbolic removal of both shield and gear cause Gawain to be more vulnerable both spiritually and physically.

Satan, on the other hand, is no longer the beautiful angel he once was due to his dramatic fall from heaven, and though he is still described as an impressive figure, the most dominant character description of Satan being his enormous size and his beautiful powers of speech. Though Milton provides an elaborate description of Satan, it does not speak to his character, and readers have found it easy to sympathize with him at times, since he acts like an innocent victim to some degree and often laments on the struggles with his choices.

What both Sir Gawain and Satan have in common is that they are each given a set of rules in which to follow and they both fail. Sir Gawain is asked to make a pact with his host with which Gawain agrees; “what I win in the woods will be yours, and what you gain while I’m gone you will give to me.” ( 209) Gawain’s chastity and honesty and trust are tested as he struggles to protect and maintain his knightly virtues and his pact with his host. With Satan, God ask for his thanks and obedience to him. His continued envy and search for freedom leads him to believe that his own free intellect is as great as God’s does not consider his faults and even, without remorse, remarks, “To reign is worth ambition though in Hell: Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav’n.” (Vol. B, p. 1952).

Sir Gawain can be considered the hero of his story, with the major conflict for him largely being whether his knightly virtues are more important than his life. Gawain’s believes in the public reputation of himself and, as important as his own opinion is, he is tested in the value of caution when it comes to pride in oneself. In order to preserve his own life, Gawain conceals the magical green girdle that the host’s wife gives him, breaking his pact with the host, revealing the weakness in his own virtue. Although the Green Knight forgives Gawain after he begs for forgiveness, Gawain emerges at the end of the poem as a humbled man, weighed down by a new somberness as he returns to Arthur’s court realizing his own faults and the fact that he will never live up to his own high standards. He then voluntarily wears the girdle as a symbol of his sin.

On the other hand, Satan can be considered the antihero, with his persuasive speech he is seductive and dangerous, his unwavering and unrepentant evil nature along with his selfishness and pride create havoc in a new world. Satan’s envy of the Son’s chosen status led him to rebel and consequently to be condemned. Yet, he remained unrepented even after the initial battle, where God’s overwhelming power demonstrated, that he and his fellow devils could not unchain themselves unless God allowed it. Satan’s pride, so blinding, he doesn’t realize that God could easily defeat them, even though he thought he had ‘the strength of gods.’ (1949) Though Satan is cast down from heaven in defeat, he does not consider changing his ways: insisting to his fellow devils that their delight will be in doing evil, not good. He then further plans, manipulates and schemes to corrupt humankind through Adam and Eve in an effort to retaliate for the wrongs he feels have been committed against him. However, God, through his ultimate grace and mercy, still allows this to take place since his ultimate plan is to turn Satan’s evil designs toward a greater good in the end.

These two characters, Sir Gawain and Satan, are at the core of their stories, each faced with their own moral weaknesses, personal realizations and difficult trials, in a way, very similar, yet vastly different. The decisions that these two heroes, or antiheros, make, affect every reader; Gawain, a loss of honor whose realization that he is not as perfect chooses to visibly display his sin, the other, Satan, losses both heaven for himself and paradise for humankind, through his refusal to give up his pride, or accept the consequences for his actions, but instead chooses to retaliate on humankind encouraging others to follow. Both characters give the reader instruction on how every choice has consequences and when faced with difficult situations our true character is revealed, and ultimately the power of obedience and forgiveness can result in a final conclusion that can still bring about a positive outcome.

Sir Gawain in “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” and Satan in “Paradise Lost” essay

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FAQ

What does Sir Gawain symbolize?
Gawain promises himself that he will wear the girdle forever as a symbol of his failure, but also as a reminder of how "a man may hide his misdeed, but never erase it" (2511). After all the men in Arthur's court decide to wear a similar belt, however, the girdle takes on a new meaning – it becomes a symbol of honor .
What sin did Sir Gawain commit?
In the final book of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Gawain commits his “sin” by accepting the green lace from the king's wife . In doing do he put faith into the lace rather than into God wholeheartedly showing he was a coward.
What temptations does Gawain face?
Gawain, when approached by the lady in the second seduction scene, acts less ignorant to his position, but temptation draws him to be aggressive . "My aim is to please," (33) said Gawain. The lady tempts Gawain to such an extent that he tries to resist her by exchanging two kisses with her, instead of sleeping with her.
Who does Gawain fall in love with?
Gawain and the beautiful woman found such comfort and closeness in each other company (line 970,1010)”. Sir Gawain had courted Guinevere while he was at kings Arthurs castle but being here in Bertilak's Castle he now found a much more stunning lady superior to Guinevere, Lady Bertilak .
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