How are the heroes Sir Gawain (in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight) and Beowulf (in Beowulf) similar and different?

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susan3smith eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In his own way, each hero represents the values of his culture.  Beowulf represents the warrior colde of the Anglo Saxons:  bravery, loyalty, physical strength.  Gawain represents the chivalric code of the medieval period which also involves courage, loyalty, and physical prowess.  However, the two heroes differ in the way that they demonstrate these virtues.  Beowulf meets evil monsters which represent the antithesis of the warrior code:  Grendel, Grendel's mother, and the fire dragon.  Sir Gawain's test is not one against evil; it is one that tests his own integrity.  Sir Gawain's opponents, in other words, are not evil antagonists.  They provide instead an opportunity for Sir Gawain to prove his character.  Beowulf can defeat the evil monsters, but Sir Gawain is unable to demonstrate that he is perfect.  Gawain comes close to perfection, but fails by taking the green sash offered to him by the lady of the castle. 

At the end of the story, even though Gawain has performed bravely and done more than any other knight was willing to do, he felt himself a failure.  Gawain's adventure demonstrates the medieval idea that man should strive for perfection even if he falls short.  Beowulf, however, is victorious.  He is able to defeat the monster and save his people, even if at the end he loses his life.  In the Anglo-Saxon epic, the threat comes mainly from without.  In the medieval romance, the threat is actually a test, not truly a threat at all. 

thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Beowulf are examples of very different literary genres, with the former being an example of chivalric romance and the latter traditional oral-derived epic. The two heroes, despite having much in common on the surface, actually represent very different systems of social customs and moral ideals. 

Although from different periods and cultures, Sir Gawain and Beowulf do have the sort of qualities in common that make them heroes. Both are very brave and willing to risk their own lives in service of their obligations to others. Both display outstanding physical strength and skill with arms. Both are strong moral characters, although Beowulf is presented as without moral flaws and Gawain as a good person who occasionally lapses. 

The first difference is that Gawain is a Christian figure and Beowulf a mix of Christian and pagan. Gawain is portrayed as having a sexual nature and undergoing sexual temptation while the story of Beowulf is lacking in sexual elements and human female characters. Beowulf's challenges are primarily physical in nature and Gawain's moral and spiritual. 


joymarie | Student

i have learned to love these stories because of studying literature. sir gawain and beowulf has many similarities and differences like how people are unique in their own like to cite them separately


they both belong to royal blood

they were both heroes

they were both in a quest

they won the battles

perhaps you should consult vlamidir propp's ideas on epic heroes. apparently, things that i have mentioned were all present in a hero.


beowulf uses more of his strengthwhile sir gawain uses wits.

beowulf reflects more of culture , sir gawain discusses more of moral values such as honesty and loyalty.

and so on. i hope you are satisfied with my answers and i am able to help you out. :)




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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

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