In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, how does Gawain express or show generosity and where is it in the poem?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the meaning of "generous" is important to note.

1. liberal in giving or sharing; unselfish; 2. free from meanness or smallness of mind or character; magnaninous

The first example of generosity I see on Gawain's part is his willingness to take up arms for King Arthur; he begs permission to stand rather than having Arthur defend the court against the Green Knight's challenge.

In the first book (section 15), during the Christmas feast, when no one else stands except the King, Gawain offers himself, which I see as a generous gesture.

Gawain, sitting by the queen,
could tell the king his mind:
"Lord, hear well what I mean,
and let this match be mine."

Gawain requests permission to take the match with the Green Knight from Arthur, and fulfill the challenge himself.

In Book Two (section 24), Gawain speaks to the knights who are so worried for them. Instead of feeling sorry for himself or making a fuss for his own fate, he generously comforts those around him, telling them not to worry on his account:

But Gawain said with cheerful face:
"Why shrink back from the quest?
Though fate bring glory or disgrace 
A man must meet the test."

In the second part of Book Two (section 35), Gawain is generous with his praise to those who have so kindly welcomed him to Bertilak's castle, and helped him out of his armor:

He nobly acknowledged each of those knights, 
proud men close-pressed to honor a prince.

At the end of the same passage, Gawain meets his host and is generous of spirit, calling down blessings on the man, and joining him in a friendly embrace:

"God bless you," said Gawain then, 
"And Christ repay your grace." 
They met like joyful men
in open-armed embrace.

As a "true and gentle knight," Gawain is generous in his manner with King Arthur, and down to the lowliest of servants at Bertilak's castle. While everyone looks to see if he will be a honorable a man as the Arthurian knights are rumored to be, Gawain is true to his oath to chivalry and Arthur's court.

droxonian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The generosity in this poem is more generally held to be on the part of the Green Knight, Bertilak, who takes Gawain into his home, forgives him his errors, and helps him understand the reasons for his quest. However, we can also see in Gawain the "virtues" and "purity" that have been bred into him as a good knight and which exhibit themselves as generosity and a reluctance to step outside the bounds of courtesy.

When Bertilak's wife comes to visit Gawain in his bedchamber, Gawain is understandably uneasy. However, he is reluctant to do anything that might displease the lady. On the contrary, he tells her "I will do your will" and "I will yield me readily." When she asks for a kiss, therefore, he delivers it, although obviously torn. Later in the poem, he gives that kiss again to Bertilak, in the spirit of openness. While Gawain quite obviously worries about the kisses exchanged, his redistribution of them to Bertilak seems to wash them clean in his mind and make his dedication to the lady something of knightly purity rather than something adulterous kept behind his host's back. If he is generous with his kisses to the lord as well as to the lady, his chivalry is upheld. Of course, Gawain later missteps in keeping the final gift of the green girdle from Bertilak; it is Bertilak's generosity in this instance that saves Gawain's life, and Gawain never forgets it.

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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

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