The tale Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a lively amusing tale that captivates the reader with colorful detail of adventurous challenges that Sir Gawain must overcome to remain an honorable Knight in the eyes of King Arthur,his relations,and peers. Most of all he must be able to offer a favorable account to himself free of dishonor in his own eyes remaining true to himself.
The first display of the Knightly qualities that Sir Gawain possesses is when the Green Knight has voiced his challenge and King Arthur is about to behead the Green Knight as part of his challenge when Sir Gawain humbly and eloquently speaks up asking that the melee be his for it is a task unbefitting a King. Sir Gawain then rises to the challenge playing the part of adversary to the Green Knight and with tremendous physical prowess chops his head off with a single blow of the axe. This opening scene demonstrates to the reader that Sir Gawain has the necessary qualities of a hero and provides the reader with a foretaste of what is to come.
We now turn to one year later when Sir Gawain must seek out the Green Knight at the Green Chapel and accept one stroke of the Green Knight?s axe on his neck. The journey is a treacherous one taken during the winter just prior to X-Mas, not knowing his way he prays that he way find his way to lodging and the Green Chapel. As soon as he has completed his entreaties to the G-d he knows he becomes aware of a moat and castle where he finds himself welcome. After some recuperation and celebration of the holiday the Lord of the manor informs him that the Green Chapel is but two miles away and advises him to stay three full days and set forth on the first of the New Year.
An unusual deal is then made with the host in which Sir Gawain and the host agree to exchange whatever is won by the host during his hunting over the next three days and whatever Sir Gawain wins during his three day stay prior to his departure for the Green Chapel.
The host goes on the first day and hunts for deer coming back with tremendous bounty while the hostess attempts to seduce Sir Gawain testing his chivalry. She tells him all that?s he could desire is his for the taking after much discussion he does not succumb to desire but she insists on kissing him. When the host presents the bounty to Sir Gawain he accepts it and confers upon the host a kiss. This shows the reader that Sir Gawain is honest yet at the same time clever enough to not say anything. This occurs again on the second day truly testing the will of any man and again Sir Gawain and the host exchange a kiss for the hunted boar. On the third day the situation changes for the hostess offers Sir Gawain a valuable ring which he politely rejects but succumbs to her offer of a green lace girdle which she says will protect him from any harm and they kiss three times. At the conclusion of the day Sir Gawain kisses the host three times but fails to honor his end of the deal by withholding the girdle. The host offers apologetically a fox pelt and tells him of the kill.
On the third day it is metaphorically fitting that the host give Sir Gawains a foul foxes pelt for the fox is clever and cunning when those characteristics are used deceitfully as Sir Gawain seemingly was forced to do they become foul.
The fourth day comes and the host provides Sir Gawain with a guide to lead him to the Green Chapel where the Green Knight resides. During the course of the journey the guide offers to turn a blind eye and show him the path back swearing to never tell a soul about this act of cowardice. This test Sir Gawain overcomes for he will not be able to bear this act on his conscience as a Knight for his word must be upheld even if it means risking his life.
Now comes the final test which Sir Gawain must undergo of that he must bear the swing of the Green Knights axe. As the Green Knight swings the axe Sir Gawain flinches at which the Green Knight makes fun of this happens again a second time. Finally the third time Sir Gawain stands steadfast and the Green Knights swings lightly cuts Sir Gawains neck causing a small cut. Sir Gawain then jumps back and bares his blade prepared to defend himself.
The Green Knight then reveals himself to be his former host and explains the two feints were for the two days of fair trade while the cut of the third was for being deceitful and fearing for his life by withholding the girdle. The Green Knight tells him how he bears a good name upon his King by his actions and Sir Gawain feels tremendous remorse for having been deceitful and now stands before the Green Knight ?Polished as a pearl?.free of fault since first you were born?.(Line 2394)
The timing of this meeting and the reference to free of fault has religious symbolism to X-Mas and New Years day. The tale concludes with Sir Gawain telling of having a realization that cowardice and coveting caused the wound for which faith can cure.