Symbolism:

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Symbolism is the practice of using objects to represent ideas or qualities. In the poem, the color green is used frequently. Specifically, Gawain is given a green sash by a lady. It comes to represent his difficulty with his knightly code.

Example:
In the work, there are several important symbols. However, the green sash is one that appears to have particular significance. Gawain chose to wear a green sash for life. In one quote from the story, the poet wrote “For the man that possesses this piece of silk, / If he bore it on his body, belted about, / There is no hand under heaven that could hew him down, / For he could not be killed by any craft on earth” (“Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” 1851-54). At this point in the story, the lady gives Gawain the sash because he refused a ring. The ring was quite valuable. However, a sash that could protect Gawain from the strike of the Green Knight’s ax is even more valuable. Of course, the sash does not have any magical powers.

Function:
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is one of the most well known works of medieval literature. The author is not known; however, he is often referred to as the Pearl Poet. In the work, the color green is critical. One example of the use of the color is the green girdle. The green girdle is given to Gawain by the Lady Bertilak. She insists that the girdle or sash will keep Gawain safe from all harm. The function of this symbolism is for the reader to associate the color and the sash with a number of items in the story. Predominantly, it allows the reader to associate the lady with the green knight through the use of the color green. Lady Bertilak is the lady of the Green Knight’s castle. She is the wife of the Green Knight, who is in disguise. The lady gives the sash to Gawain as a means of seduction; however, he later wears it as a symbol of his shame. He did not uphold all of the rules of the game.

Gawain feared for his life as the day of the blade stroke approached. He also struggled to complete his side of the bargain. He agreed to give Bertilak anything he obtained during the day; Bertilak agreed to do the same. Bertilak did present Gawain with his kills for the day. However, Gawain struggles between the act of courtly love and his agreement. He accepted the girdle from the lady because of his fear. “For the man that possesses this piece of silk, / If he bore it on his body, belted about, / There is no hand under heaven that could hew him down, / For he could not be killed by any craft on earth” (“Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” 1851-54). This line and the girdle represent Gawain’s struggles. He wants to uphold the promises he makes; he also wants to uphold the rituals of chivalry and courtly love. He cannot do both. Most importantly to Gawain, he wants to live. This girdle creates a struggle for him. The girdle is used to symbolize the struggles of Gawain in fulfilling his duties as a knight.

    References
  • Tolkien, J. R. R. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1975. Print.