Term Paper: Beowulf and Sir Gawain

Pages: 3 (953 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Mythology  ·  Buy This Paper

Beowulf and Sir Gawain as Heroes

Heroism is not something simply defined. It is a word so over-used that it has lost its meaning. To the authors of "Beowulf" and "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" the term probably had a clear meaning.

For one thing, heroes do great things. For instance, Beowulf slays two monsters and a dragon, while Gawain encounters and deals with such creatures en route to the Green Chapel. So at one level at least, heroes can do things others cannot. To a degree, we see heroism in the incredible feats of strength and skill demonstrated by popular athletes. but, skillful as they are, athletes are not performing these feats as part of an effort to help others.

So then, a willingness to help others must be part and parcel of being a hero; Gawain is a knight and although his deal with the Green Knight is struck in hasty pride, he has formerly served Arthur well in battle, as testified by the fact that on the inside of his shield he keeps an image of the Virgin Mary. Gawain's service to others takes place outside of the story in general, while all the drama in Beowulf is derived from his service to others. He goes to fight Grendel, Grendel's mother, and the dragon to avenge and defend those whom these monsters had been afflicting.

While they are sometimes capable of feats of inhuman prowess, they are still men. When the Green Knight makes his challenge to the crowd, Arthur is bound to take it up, but Gawain, being the knight of least renown begs a boon from Arthur; he wants to be allowed to take up the Green Knight's challenge so that he can build up his own reputation as something other than just the King's nephew. However, his real motives are probably a little more selfish. He thinks the Green Knight is going to be a pushover, and plans to kill him with one blow so he (Gawain) never need face the blow the Green Knight gets to give Gawain as part of the deal. Once Gawain sees how things go when the Green Knight loses his head and doesn't die, we can see how unhappy Gawain becomes. He can only be contemplating what he considers the inevitable; his death at the hands of this somehow-supernatural being.

In Beowulf's case, when he faces the dragon the author tells us that both dragon and Beowulf dreaded each other. So heroes can and do experience fear.

Heroes may feel fear, but they seldom express it. Gawain is clearly unhappy with the outcome of the Green Knight's initial challenge, in spite of cutting off the Green Knight's head, the Green Knight still lives and promises to lop off Gawain's head in a year. Nearly a year goes by, and when Gawain realizes there… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Beowulf and Sir Gawain.  (2004, December 11).  Retrieved May 22, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/beowulf-sir-gawain/196113

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"Beowulf and Sir Gawain."  11 December 2004.  Web.  22 May 2019. <https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/beowulf-sir-gawain/196113>.

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"Beowulf and Sir Gawain."  Essaytown.com.  December 11, 2004.  Accessed May 22, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/beowulf-sir-gawain/196113.