In the Epic poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the unnamed author uses Sir Gawain to illustrate the heroic ideals of chivalry, loyalty and honesty in fourteenth century England. The poem depicts the society of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. In the poem, Gawain is the ideal of virtue and all that is good. Throughout the poem, however, his character is constantly tested and his integrity is compromised. In the end, Gawain proves that, although he is fallible, he is an honest and chivalrous man of heroic stature.
The poem begins on New Year?s Eve in Camelot during a huge dinner celebration. Amid the festivities a huge man on horseback dressed entirely in green, gallops into the hall. Arrogantly he issues a challenge to everyone at the feast for someone to come forward and strike him with his axe. The Green Knight promises to award his allegiance and his axe on the condition that in a year from then the challenger should also receive the same single blow of the axe in return. Sir Gawain stands up and asks to be granted the challenge on behalf of the king. Such a courageous and noble act defines the character of Sir Gawain.
After almost a year has passed, Gawain has not forgotten the Green Knight or his promise. He then arms himself and leaves Camelot. Upon his departure, he travels for many arduous days until finally reaching a castle in which he is taken in as a guest. His host is most welcoming and hospitable to Gawain.
During his stay at this castle, Gawain is repeatedly tested. The wife of his host constantly tries to convince Gawain into having an affair with her. Due to Sir Gawain?s great character, he politely declines. Though she cannot tempt him with herself, she is able to break his moral purity by convincing him to accept a gift that could protect his life against the Green Knight. What makes the acceptance of this gift a shortcoming is that Gawain?s fear of death keeps him from being honest with his host and telling him that he received such a gift, although earlier they had agreed to such terms.
After this, Gawain leaves to seek out the Green Knight. When he finally comes upon the green chapel, the knight appears. The knight commends Sir Gawain for being noble and keeping his word and with this Gawain prepares for a blow from of the axe. The Green Knight returns the blow by mearly cutting the skin and drawing blood. The small cut represents Gawain?s small sin of accepting the sash from the Green Knights wife, who had been the wife of his host. Except for this shortcoming, the Green Knight proclaims that Gawain is truly a noble, honorable man and should have no guilt. Gawain is deeply upset and disgraced by his behavior and decides to wear the sash as a sign of shame. After this, he returns to Camelot and is hailed by all the court as a hero and they dismiss his recent disgrace.
Through his actions, Gawain proves his chivalry, valor and status as a hero by defending King Arthur, keeping his word to seek out the Green Knight, refusing to have an affair with his host?s wife, and holding to his ideals and principals. In all, Gawain passed the test of the time and depicts what is seen to be good and pure of that time.