In Sir Gawain And The Green Knight Essay, Research Paper
The Symbolism and Parallels of the Hunts
The Arthurian tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is an intriguing story of chivalry and moral dilemmas. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight contains many literary devices such as foreshadowing and especially symbolism. The most in-depth form of symbolism is found in the obvious parallels between the two hunts. There are three attempts for each hunt. The lord of the castle hunts three animals: the deer, the boar, and the fox. Likewise, the lady of the castle tempts Sir Gawain three times. The parallels between these scenes exist in the behavior Sir Gawain exhibits. Though the literal animals do not hold any specific meaning, their instinctive behaviors hold the symbolic parallel to Sir Gawain.
The first animal the host hunts is the female deer. The deer is considered a shy and non-confrontational creature. Like many animals the deer takes flight in the occurrence that a confrontation might exist. The behavioral characteristic that Sir Gawain mirrors is the avoidance of a confrontation with the lady of the house. To avoid the confrontation Sir Gawain lay in his bed pretending to be asleep. The line More seemly it were/ To try her intent by talking a little. (1198) indicates that Sir Gawain is leery of awakening and having a confrontation with the lady. He does not want to offend the lady by rejecting her, yet he does not wish to be seduced by the lady either. If Sir Gawain allows the lady of the house to seduce him, he will not only break the chivalrous code but also he could possibly offend the lord of the house. Sir Gawain, acting like the deer, decides that it would be better to pretend to be asleep than to face the uncertain motives of the lady of the house.
The second day of the wager includes a long drawn out hunt by the lord of the house. The boar is the second animal of the hunt, but the boar is not as easy to kill as the deer. The boar, though it did not escape, manages to cause injury to the hounds and the hunters: Often he stands at bay, / Then scatters the pack pell-mell; / He hurts the hounds, and they/ Most dolefully yowl and yell. (1450-1454). These lyrics suggest that unlike the deer, the boar is more likely to turn against the hunter and counter-attack. Sir Gawain depicts this characteristic during the second visit from the lady of the house. When the lady of the house first enters the bedroom, Sir Gawain thought it good to greet her at once, (1477). The lady of the house begins the hunt by provoking Sir Gawain about his courtly conduct. It is at this point that Sir Gawain gains the behavioral characteristics of the boar and counter-attacks the lady of the house: But threats never throve among those of my land, / Nor any gift not freely given, good though it be. (1499-1500). This lashing back at the hunter is the same characteristic portrayed by the boar.
There is another trait of the boar in which Sir Gawain is in correlation with. In the medieval era, the boar would be classified as a beast of venery. During this age the beast of venery class is the highest regarded class of hunted animals. The boar is honorable kill. The parallel in this aspect is apparent. While the lord is hunting an animal of nobility, Sir Gawain is struggling to remain noble during his trials with the lady of the house.
On the final day of the wager, the lady of the house tempts Sir Gawain a third time while the lord of the castle hunts the fox. The fox, true to its cunning nature, is very difficult to track. The fox leads the hunters on a long chase that absorbs much of the afternoon: Often he reverses over rough terrain/ Or loops back to listen in the lee of a hedge, (1707-1708). While the lord is pursuing the fox, the lady of the house is attempting to seduce Sir Gawain. Sir Gawain, like the fox, runs the lady of the house in a conversation of circles. He tries to escape through trickery, which is how the lady captures Sir Gawain in the end. The fox reverses direction, in an attempt to escape, but his change only carries him into the trap of his hunter. The same concept is applied to the third attempt inside the bedroom. By accepting the green girdle, Sir Gawain fell into the trap set by the lord and the lady of the house. In the end, Sir Gawain fails his code of honor by accepting the green girdle and concealing it from the lord of the house. Sir Gawain fails in his test of morality.
Another interesting aspect to the third hunt is the concept of untruthfulness. The hounds, which are chasing the fox, say to him Thief! (1725). One of the behavioral aspects of the fox is that of an untrustworthy character. The comment by the hounds reflects this idea. By accepting the green girdle and concealing its presence from the lord of the house tells the reader that Sir Gawain is as untrustworthy as the fox. This comparison of truth between the two foreshadows the inevitability that Sir Gawain will suffer the same fate of the fox.
To display the obvious parallels between Sir Gawain and the animals of the hunts, the author switches back and forth between the scenes and the persons whom are experiencing the scenes. For example, on the day of the third hunt the author begins with the view of the hunter searching for the fox. The scene then switches to the lady of the house and her view of Sir Gawain. The scene then switches back to the hunt in the woods, and the view is now coming from the fox. Once again the scene switches back to the castle and is seen through Sir Gawain s perception. The connection between temptation and the hunt is apparent. The reader can also see the lord and the lady of the house working as a team through this narration of the hunting scenes. In conclusion, the narration of this story is the tool used by the author to display the symbolic connection between Sir Gawain and the animals of the hunt.