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The poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is outlined in an alliterative way that characterizes the writing styles of the medieval times (Spearing 134). This poem focuses on the journey of a young knight who goes to his doom after taking up a challenge that had many in his company recoil with dread. A turn of events, however, leads to the salvation of the knight from his fate. This poem focuses on a number of controversial issues. In this light, this paper will focus more on the religious controversies portrayed in the poem, which appear to relate in a questionable mode to the beliefs by Christians of the true nature of their salvation and faith. The hazy ending of this poem raises a number of questions on the mind of the reader. Some of these questions include the turn of events, and the significance of the contradicting concepts of Christianity and sorcery. These two concepts are a major characteristic of the composition of society today.
The Critical Controversies surrounding the Religious Paradigm
The concept of religion has been outlined in reference to different symbols. The young knight is armored before setting off to face his fate with the Green Knight. Sir Gawain is equipped with a shield, which symbolizes a protective measure. The shield has a number of religious symbols, which represent Christian virtues of the young knight. However, he only uses the shield when facing the Green Knight. This religious symbolic relation contradicts with the common symbolic reference of the shield. The shield is usually taken to signify war; in this poem, the shield has, however, been used to symbolize the religious virtues of Sir Gawain, which guide him through his quest (Saver par. 3). This could probably be the reason why the poet mentions its use when Sir Gawain faces the Green Knight and not during his various confrontations with other beasts.
The shield has a pentagon emblem embedded at its center in gold. This imagery engraved on the shield of the pentagon is taken to symbolize various aspects in religion. First, is the comparison of the five points of the pentagon to the wounds impacted on Christ while at the cross. Then there is the symbolism to the five joys of Mary, which Christianity acknowledges to have been deducted from Jesus, from which the poem identifies that the young knight drew his strength. Originally, the pentagon was taken to signify fidelity and loyalty to the king. It signifies an unbroken promise to abide by the oaths of knighthood. Sir Gawain strives to hold this oath by resisting the advances of the lady. However, it contradicts his faith by his giving in and responding to her kisses, a sign of infidelity to the Lord of the castle who is out hunting with his men (Saver par. 3). Despite their agreement with his host to give all he earns during the day in the castle, Sir Gawain withholds a girdle given to him by the lady of the castle prior to his departure from the castle, a sign of infidelity.
Another religious concept is the image of the Virgin Mary engraved inside his shield, which the poem denotes to act as a source of courage for the knight (Saver par. 2). The belief in the Virgin Mary is a common practice among the Catholic faithful. They believe that through her mediation, they can face challenges that come their way. Sir Gawain can be said to draw from this belief in his journey through the rough road. However, this only acts as a reminder of the vows he has taken as a knight and his religious background. It does not, however, determine his behavioral conduct. Whereas the religious requirement for individuals is to conduct themselves in accordance to the virtues defined by their religion, Sir Gawain acts differently. He allows his faith to be swayed by accepting a gift and hiding it from his host, contrary to their previous agreement.
These symbolic representations reflect a Christian background, from which the knight has originated. In his journey to fight with the evil, he looks at his faith and draws courage and strength from it. This generally relates to the Christian story of the tribulations of Christ. That is, the young knight appears to sacrifice himself on behalf of the king and takes up the challenge proposed by the Green Knight. Just as Christ sacrificed himself for the sinners and transgressors, Sir Gawain takes up the place of the king and agrees to face the Green Knight. This is a courageous move by a young individual. In the event of his confrontation with the Green Knight, the Green Knight puts Sir Gawain’s courage to test. He flinches when the Green Knight raises his axe to take his avenge. This contradicts the required strong belief and courage expected in Christians when faced with trying situations.
In the poem, Sir Gawain faces a number of obstacles in his mission. He travels a lonely road, where he fights with different evils. According to Christianity, a number of struggles that individuals have to overcome often signify the road to salvation. Similarly, Sir Gawain goes through a rough trip to reach his target and face his fate. The lavish portrayal of the castle reflects the earthly pleasures that often seek to derail majority of believers from their path of faith. Sir Gawain is exposed to these things when in the castle; he agrees to be a servant for the lord of the castle in exchange for his enjoyment of the castle’s treasures. The lavish things can be taken to relate to the worldly treasures that many seek and enjoy. This is in controversial to his beliefs; Sir Gawain gives in to the charms of his host and tends to neglect his oath of knighthood. His actions of accepting the magic protective belt can be taken as a sign of giving in to magical powers and forsaking the trust and protection of God.
According to a scholar Vigne Sarah, the Poem has highlighted the controversial issues in varied literal ideas. For instance, the tradition chivalry order required individuals sworn into knighthood to be faithful to their leaders. The shield provided for them was a symbol of their duty to protect their king and defend their land. In the poem however, this shield acts as a symbol of faith for Sir Gawain. This is because of the different literal meanings derived from the art works on the shield; the face of the Virgin Mary and the Pentagon. This poem can thus be said to support the use of literal works and arts to portray the religious standing of individuals as well as act as a reminder of their faith. Just as Sir Gawain put his faith in the girdle while facing the Green Knight, religious symbols can play a vital role in strengthening an individual’s faith and beliefs (Vigne 5).
The Significance of the Lady's Girdle
Sir Gawain gives in to the lady’s advances by accepting the gift of a girdle. This is symbolic to the reader in a number of ways. Thus, it signifies a wavering in faith. The poem identifies this as a magical design to protect the bearer from harm. In accepting it, Sir Gawain acknowledges his doubts in God’s ability to protect him from the fate that waits. He does not believe in the power of God to save him from the confrontation ahead. The struggle to keep up and observe religious requirements appears to be a consuming activity for believers. This is why in the contemporary world, majority of believers choose to take the easy way out by giving in to temptations. The girdle symbolizes the varied temptations in the life of a Christian. Despite overcoming the advances of the lady, Sir Gawain could not resist the powers of the girdle (Hodges par. 55). This portrays the instability of faith common in most believers, which is often shaken by trying situations. Instead of being faithful, Sir Gawain opts to seek comfort from other sources. In this context, the girdle is a common characteristic of most believers who have a wavering faith and at times mistrust the Lord’s ability to come through for them.