Color Imagery In Sir Gawain And The
Green Knight Essay, Research Paper
Sir Gawain And The Green Knight
I believe that the color imagery in Sir Gawain And The Green Knight represents nature, as a force that man has little control over. This is evident during the journey of Sir Gawain, and later, his shame in front of King Arthur’s court. Nature does as it will in ways that can not be controlled by man. The best they can do is to acknowledge the fact that it is happening. They had no control whatsoever, and therefore, were subject to it’s, at times, ferocity. This is similar to the ferocity displayed by the Green Knight. The Green Knight worked under his own set of rules, and like a growing tree, man had, and still has, no control over when the tree would leaf or bloom, or how long it’s branches would grow. The Green Knight, like nature, has to be understood before it can be dealt with, and even then, you are not guaranteed success. You need to know how he thinks, and play your cards right, in order to come out of the fight successfully. At first Sir Gawain was on the right path, but throughout his journey, he became sidetracked and due to that, he brought shame unto himself, and to the court of King Arthur.
The story begins with a New Year’s feast at Arthur’s court in Camelot. All the knights and ladies gather to exchange gifts, and to eat and be merry. Everyone is laughing and having a good time, while Arthur amuses them with stories of courageous knights. The first course is served, and the guests are about to eat, when a knight, dressed totally in green, rides into the dining hall. The knight is very large, well-dressed, and imposing. It seems that he has come in peace, due to the absence of his armor and shield. The Green Knight’s connection to nature is emphasized when he is presented holding a “holly bob…That is goodliest in green when groves are bare”(206-7). His closeness to nature is also apparent when the color of the knight is described as “green as the grass”(235). The Green Knight has a challenge, and he demands to speak to the head of the court. King Arthur, being the head of the court, answers the call of the Green Knight. The Green Knight proceeds to tell Arthur that it is his court who are the best and most noble knights in the land, and he has come here with a challenge. He begins to taunt Arthur’s knights, and King Arthur becomes outraged and accepts the strangers challenge. The Green Knight will allow someone to strike him with an ax, as long as they agree to find him in one year to accept the return blow. Before King Arthur can chop the Green Knight’s head off, Sir Gawain stands up, and asks if he can replace the King instead. The court agrees to let Gawain take the challenge, so Gawain swings the ax, and chops off the knight’s head. As soon as his head gets chopped off, the Knight picks it up and mounts his horse. He tells Gawain to meet him at his house, the Green Chapel on New Year’s Day the following year. He rides away, and the court proceeds to finish their feast. I guess the court is used to people having their heads chopped off, and then riding away on their horse. An excellent line in this poem was the line “The blood gushed from the body, bright on the green”(428). The red obviously, symbolizes blood, but it is interesting how the author takes time to tell how the red and green contrast. I see the contrast as blood, which is a certainty-a certainty of death, and the green, as the unpredictable nature, which is also death in many forms.
Time goes by, and the seasons pass, as well as the year. Sir Gawain gets ready for his departure from King Arthur’s court in the fall. On his neck he has a pentangle, which is a five- pointed star. It is also called the endless knot, and it’s five points symbolize the 5 senses, the 5 fingers, the 5 wounds of Christ, the 5 joys of Mary, and the 5 aspects of gentlesse. The author also seems to take great pains in describing the elaborate armor that Sir Gawain is wearing. Obviously, the Knight cares much about his appearance. Gawain leaves amid everyone paying their respects and wishing him good luck. They, as well as Gawain, expect him to never return again. Gawain searches all over the countryside for the Green Chapel, but to no avail. But finally, after praying up to God to help him find a shelter from the cold, Gawain stumbles upon the castle, snuggled deep in the woods. Gawain rides up to the castle, and when he reveals his name, he is greeted warmly, and invited in.
Gawain is introduced to the Lord of the castle, and is shown to his room. He is fed a feast, and praised by the Lord, who says he is honored to have so noble a guest. It is amazing how much you can get by the power of name recognition, how much you can rely on it to help you through tough times. Gawain is also introduced to two ladies. One is a beautiful women, the other is an old hag. The beautiful women is the Lord’s wife, and she takes an immediate liking to Sir Gawain. For the remainder of the evening, Gawain is entertained by the Lord. Gawain eventually makes his mission known. He tells the lord that he is searching for The Green Chapel, home of The Green Knight. The lord informs Gawain that the castle is only two miles away from where Gawain is now standing. The Lord encourages Gawain to spend time at the castle, and to sleep late, while he goes out to hunt.
Early the next morning, after the Lord and his guests wake up, Gawain is lying in bed when the Lord’s wife comes in. Gawain feels very self-conscious and embarrasses to be seen in this vulnerable position, because he has just woken up , so he feigns sleep. She patiently waits for him to wake up, so he pretends to wake up so that he may speak to her. She tells Gawain, in not so many words, that she is basically his servant for the remainder of his stay there, and that she will stop at nothing to please him. They talk for quite awhile, and when she finally gets up to leave, she asks for a kiss, saying that a good knight would grant her this wish. It is obvious that she is trying to tempt the Knight. In the meantime, the Lord has been hunting, and the author once again takes joy in the color imagery, going to great lengths to describe just exactly how the animals were slaughtered.
The next morning, the Lord once again goes out hunting with his friends. It is interesting how the Lord is always absent at choice times in the poem. The wife once again goes down to Gawain’s chambers and attempts to subtly seduce him. They wind up kissing three more times. The Knight feels torn between the rudeness of refusing her, and the unforgivable sin of accepting her. Before she leaves his chambers, the wife asks Gawain to giver her a token of his love. The Knight on account of having nothing to give her, says that he will accept a gift from her instead. She offers him a ring, which he promptly refuses, saying that he will not accept any gifts from her. But in an act of hypocrisy, he accepts a gift of less value, but a gift nonetheless. She offers him a green girdle, which at first he refuses, then accepts when she tells him that it is a magic girdle which will prevent him from ever being killed. She also manages to kiss Gawain three more times. So far, throughout the poem, Gawain has succeeded to some extent in resisting the ladies advances to him, but with the acceptance of the girdle, he has basically sealed his fate. It turns out, obviously, that the Lord has been going on his hunting trips on purpose. He has also been exchanging winnings with Gawain, such as when returning from killing the boar, he would present it to Gawain, whereas Gawain would give something to the Lord that he had accumulated that day. On the third day, when the Lord asks Gawain to trade winnings for a third time, Gawain neglects to give the Lord the girdle which he had received. In reality, this was really a test of Gawain’s honesty, and he failed. I personally feel that Gawain is being treated unfairly. It is similar to “planting the evidence” in order to frame someone. He did not accept it for lust, or wealth, or pride, but rather, for protection. “Yet he wore not for it’s worth, that wondrous girdle, nor pride in it’s pendants, though polished they were…But to keep himself safe”(2037-8,2040). On the outside, Gawain is everything a Knight should be-courageous, worthy, and strong, but on the inside, Gawain does not trust God to protect him, which is why he accepted the Girdle in the first place. He also feels that he should not turn the lady away because as a gentleman, he should be polite. He should have noticed right away that the girdle was green, and that it was small enough to wear without it being seen, which was a giveaway that the lady was trying to set him up.
The next day is the day that Gawain will be leaving to go to the Green Chapel. He leaves, thanking the Lord for his hospitality. The Lord provides Gawain with a guide to lead him to within sight of the castle. Before leaving, the guide begs Gawain to leave, saying that the Green Knight is deadly, and that he kills every man on sight. Gawain, says no, and continues on his way. He calls out the Green Knight’s name, and is answered back. The Green Knight praises Sir Gawain for holding up his end of the offer. Gawain, being the smart Knight that he is, compares the Green Chapel with Satan, and the devil. “Can this be the Chapel Green? Alack!’ said the man, “here might the devil himself be seen Saying matins at black midnight!”(2185-8). Gawain feels that this is the work of the devil that has got him into this situation.
Like a true Knight, Gawain takes what is coming to him with a stoic face on. “He proffered, with good grace, His bare neck to the blade, And feigned a cheerful face. He scorned to be afraid”(2255-59). Gawain, even in the gravest of times, puts on a happy face, so as not to show fear in the presence of the Green Knight.
Sir Gawain kneels down, and prepares for the blow. The Green Knight swings the ax over his head to deliver the blow, but just as he reaches the tallest height, Gawain flinches, and the Knight stops in the middle of his stroke, ridiculing Gawain, and calling him a coward. Gawain tells him to strike again, whereas the Knight turns his blade, not injuring Gawain. The Green Knight tries once again, and this time the ax brushes against Gawain’s neck, giving him a tiny scratch on one side. Three strikes, and he is done. Gawain proclaims that the bargain is fulfilled, and any other attempt will be met with force. It is now time to put all the loose ends together. The Green Knight tells Gawain that the first two blows were for the first two days out of the three when Gawain kept his promise to the Lord. The third blow was for the third day, when Gawain failed to tell the Lord that he had received a girdle from the lady. So, in reality, the Green Girdle actually did Gawain more harm then good. Because he was unable to resist his urges, Gawain was given the scratch on the neck, in memory of his shame.
Understanding comes before control. In order to control something, and have it under your power, you first must know all the aspects of it, and how it is going to work. Gawain had no control over his urges, so that is why he took the green girdle. It also took Gawain a long time to figure out how to control the Green Knight, and it almost cost him his life. The Green Knight is sympathetic, and makes it clear that Gawain is not to blame for his failure. The Knight knows very well, that his wife could be very suffocating in her quest to get what she wanted, so he declares Sir Gawain to have no fault whatsoever. So indeed, the Green Knight, like nature is very unpredictable. When he easily could have killed Gawain, like a tornado coming down from the sky, he chose, mercifully, not to, and the skies cleared, and went back to their original blue. But forever, Gawain had to live with the shame that he had accepted the Green girdle, because he had no faith in God or himself.