It is safe to suggest that Christianity or Christian notions appear everywhere in the poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The Arthurian thoughtfulness is founded on the principles of Christianity as seen in the pentangle painted on the shield of Gawain with Mary’s face in its center. In this account, the timeline of the events are dotted at historic moments of the Christian holidays. On the brink of despair during his mission, Gawain prays to Mary and unexpectedly encounters Bertilak’s castle. Despite the attempted seductions by the wife of Bertilak, he still manages to attend his daily confession. The aim of this paper is to discuss the two meanings of this allegory to understand what it means to live through the Christian ideals.
The climax in this story is when Gawain presents himself to face axe-trike of the Green Knight. While one would expect this to take place in a battlefield or castle, it occurs at a chapel. It is in this chapel that this subject of Christianity reaches its climax. Even though Gawain had been attending confessions each day since he arrived at the Bertilak castle, he did not admit all his sins. He kept one secret of the green girdle that he believed would keep him safe. However, what he comes to learn completely astonishes him. He learns that Bertilak is the Green Knight and he knew about this girdle. The revelation even though comes as a shock him, gives him a new lease of life. It allows Gawain to truly embrace his flaws and becomes humble for the first time. In doing so he finds atonement, hence, a more stable base to behave in a Christian way. He learns that adopting this way of life is better than the rule-based chivalry they were used to at Arthur’s court.
The final showdown that occurs at the chapel also helped in highlighting the tensions between the Pharisees and Jesus in the bible. In this situation, the events at the chapel mirrored these biblical events. It showed that man-made laws always seem to contradict the Christian ones. Camelot and Bertilak’s court could not agree because they were separated along similar lines. The Christian laws are based divine virtues of love and mercy while the man-made laws usually do vary. The mercy that Bertilak shows towards Gawain ultimately reveals the intention of the poem. It showed that mercy and not the laws is the true foundation upon which the behavior of Christians is based.
The experiences of Gawain in this poem are not only important in the book, but also for the overall Christian life. In this literary work, the poet questions and even condemns the disputed nature of the chivalric code by stating that the Christian faith is the only thing that can save humanity. Despite his uncertain way of life, Gawain consistently finds guidance in God. It saves him from various temptations biggest of them the adulterous advances made at him by Lady Bertilak. One could argue that having faith in God like Gawain did enabled him to negotiate certain dangers he faced in his life. However, this is not only applicable to Gawain, having faith in God is key to negotiating the jeopardies of the world. The poem even affirms this point by ending with supplication to Jesus Christ, whom it describes as the savior.
Even though the poem has strong elements of Christian message, its roots are strongly attached to the Celtic pagan myth. Moreover, the Green Knight is known to have strong pagan characters. All these elements even make Gawain’s journey even more heroic because he mostly has to deal with the forces from the other world. Surviving in a pagan lifestyle while one is a Christian can be a quite challenging task that many people have usually failed to accomplish. The Pentangle on Gawain’s shield is also symbolic. On one side of the shield is this symbol and the other side a sign of the Virgin Mary. The Pentangle being a sign of paganism, thus, represents the two sides of the poem. It has a dual pagan and Christian nature. One can also draw biblical parallels from this poem. Bertilak’s castle is a representation of Paradise while the temptations of his wife can be compared to that Eve. As expected of anyone living in such a surrounding, Gawain loses his moral innocence at the end of the poem. From this, the lesson of this allegory becomes apparent. Not only does the poet emphasize on the Christian message of the poem, he also illustrates the relationship people have with the divine.
While the pentangle has been associated with paganism, it represents five virtues from which Christians can really benefit. The values include chastity, courteousness, friendship, generosity, and devotion. All these are values that are highly appreciated in a Christian setting. Apart from that, there are Christian lessons that people can learn from Sir Gawain’s behavior. Even though he comes out as a hero in this poem, he still faced certain problems that would have otherwise changed his fate. For example, the temptations from Bertilak’s wife are some issues that many people can find difficult to resist. However, through his perseverance, he comes out of this situation unscathed. Despite this strength in character, Gawain is not that of a saint. During his confessions, he keeps certain matters secretive that later become known. His lack of honesty is one thing Christians could look to avoid learning from him.
- Armitage, Simon. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. London: Faber & Faber, 2008. Print.