All heros, in fact, all people have character, but what separates the common-folk from the great heroes of our time is a hero’s ability to maintain moral character. In Susan Thompsons’ rendition of “Gawain and the Green Knight”, Gawain not only proves this time-tested quality, but he also portrays why it is optimal.
One of the more commonplace and notable characteristics of heroes, is their bravery. When Gawain volunteers to take Arthur’s place in the challenge, he shows great courage. This ties into morality because courage is required for action when one has doubts or fears about the consequences, and by disregarding his fears, he manages to do the right thing. Ultimately he knows that to be dutiful, there must be no question as to whether or not he should set off on this quest, as unpleasant as it is.
Heros usually happen to develop or illustrate an obligation to be loyal and respectful to their common man. As is expected, the Knights’ code of conduct explicitly outlines decency and comradery as necessary qualities of a knight. These qualities help maintain one’s level of respect, and in turn help to maintain relations and trust in society. While staying at Sir Bertilak’s castle, Gawain is forced to choose between courtesy and respect when his host’s wife insists that he try to win her heart. Gawain did not wish to “anger or insult his host by making amorous advances toward his wife, but neither did he wish to hurt the lady’s feelings” (3). Eventually Gawain compromises to receive the kisses of the lady with discretion and return them to the king in the evening, thereby keeping his promise (other than with the exclusion of the green girdle). Here, making respectful decisions is quite literally the right thing to do, so to be respectful, is to be moral.
Heroes often make decisions to prove their worth in order to improve their honor. As he made his way to the chapel, the servant that accompanied him said, “I swear that I will tell no one that you fled from this confrontation” (3). Instead of running away from his certain impending death, however, Gawain was willing to risk his life in order to prove he was an honorable knight. Today, it is not a common task to voluntarily walk into a death trap just to prove honor and nobility. In King Arthur’s period of time, it was a common occurrence to watch a knight or soldier die just to be remembered for his bravery and nobility. Another area that expresses Gawain’s chivalry is when he makes the honorable decision to not have an affair with Bertilak’s wife. Lady Bertilak is trying to question his manhood and morals by coming on to him. In today’s culture, it is a common occurrence to hear about an affair or indiscretion between a marriage or relationship. However the last time Gawain shows how honorable he is, is actually when he fails to tell the truth by keeping the girdle to save his life.. This illustrates that he confesses his sins and disappoints himself for not being honorable, which is why that he wears the girdle around his arm to symbolize his sin. Gawain learns his greatest lesson that he can strive to the best of his ability to uphold the code of chivalry but must also be aware of his weaknesses and inhibitions. While Gawain may have “battled” the greatest knight of all, he is still a human capable of mistakes. With these few mistakes that are common of all humans, the deeds and promises that he upheld proved him to be an honorable man.