Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is justifiably an allegory. An allegory is a narrative constructed by representing general concepts (Sin, Despair, and God) as persons. Many characters in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight have features that represent general concepts. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight can be interpreted allegorically by reviewing the characteristics and features of Gawain, the Green Knight, the Fair Lady, and the events that link the characters together. Some of the allegorical features found in the characters are obvious. The character Sir Gawain has the most obvious allegorical features within the poem.
Sir Gawain is more than a knight; he represents “everyman” on a quest. During the late 1300’s noble men displayed five classical virtues–brotherly love, good manners, compassion, open-mindedness, and beneficence. One can interpret Gawain’s imperfectness as “everyman’s sins”. This idea becomes clear when Gawain states, “My journey is to judgment surely”. Gawain represents “everyman” on a quest because at the end of every quest one receives judgment. Each mistake that Gawain makes represents man’s sins. At the end of Sir Gawain’s journey to find the Green Knight he is judged by the Green Knight.
Gawain’s reply to the Green Knight supports the idea of Gawain facing judgment. “Met my master on a mountainside, where he invested in me the honor and the emblem of an imperfect man. ” In addition, this reply by Gawain suggests that the Green Knight represents God. The Green Knight represents God in many different ways. The first and most obvious feature of God that the Green Knight represents is his judging Sir Gawain. Like God, the Green Knight sets Gawain out on a journey filled with temptations and challenges. The Green Knight tests Gawain’s courage, honor, and strength during the three days at the Castle Hautdesert.
Each day at the castle Gawain faces a temptation (the Fair Lady) and a challenge (the hunt). During his stay at the castle, Gawain receives three kisses from the Fair Lady. At Gawain’s judgment, the Green Knight reveals his knowledge of the incident to Gawain. This is shown when the Green Knight says to Gawain, “You kissed my comely wife? I know well the tale? And the wooing of my wife–it was all my scheme? She made a trial of a man most faultless by far. ” The Green Knight, much like God, tests mankind’s honor and loyalty. Gawain fails his test by committing the sin of adultery, and for his sin he will receive three blows.
The three blows that Gawain receives represent all people repenting their sins. Lastly, the Green Knight acts like God by allowing Gawain to live despite his sins of adultery and deception. Gawain not only commits adultery, but he also tries to deceive the Green Knight by wearing the invulnerable green girdle. The girdle makes Gawain invincible and free from the harm of the Green Knight’s axe. By wearing the armor, Gawain is cheating himself of God’s fate. God may want Gawain to die for his sins in the chapel, but by wearing the green armor Gawain is denying his chosen fate.
Despite all of this, the Green Knight lets Sir Gawain exchange the green girdle for his life. Even though the Fair Lady acts as temptation, she is representative of something else. The Fair Lady represents not only “temptation”, but the fox as well. Like a fox she is, cunning and deceptive. The Fair Lady uses her slyness and wits to manipulate and seduce Sir Gawain. The fox uses its cunning personality to elude hunters, making for a great hunt. The Fair Lady is much like the fox in the way she is able to cleverly answer each one of Gawain’s replies and persuade him into accepting the green girdle.
The fox is not a great prize in itself, but the honor that it stands for is priceless. To hunt and kill a fox shows great skills and smarts. It is the ultimate hunt, not because of the prize, but because of the chase. This is the same with the Fair Lady and her striking beauty. She is beautiful and smart, and to woo such a lady is a great accomplishment. The Fair Lady represents both “temptation” and “achievement”. The allegorical interpretation of the Fair Lady and Sir Gawain’s encounters is that of a man on a quest, having to overcome different temptations and challenges along his way.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is more than an Arthurian Romance, it is also an allegory. It represents man’s search for God and the temptations that one faces in their long journey. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is justifiably an allegory because Gawain represents “everyman” on a quest, the Green Knight represents “God”, and the Fair Lady represents “temptation” and “achievement”. This poem successfully tells a story, while at the same time uses characters within the story to represent general concepts–Everyman, God, Temptation, and Achievement.