What do the cluster and the axe that the Green Knight held when he came in Camelot represent?  

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literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Imagery in the narrative prose "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" is very important. The use of color imagery, numerology, and imagery represented by nature all seem to provide very distinctive and important themes within the text.

When the Green Knight arrives at King Arthur's castle, all of the Christmastime guests are surprised by the visual image of the man. The Green Knight is, not surprisingly, all green. In each of his hands he carries two distinct items: a holly berry and an axe.

These items can be described as carrying a very specific meaning as to why the Green Knight carries each.


The interpretation of the meaning behind the cluster depends on ones own personal understanding of its importance.

Given the festivities described within the text are during winter, the berry could represent nature's ability to survive even within the harshest of conditions.This could represent that the Green Knight has nature on his side and that he is naturally powerful.

Another interpretation of the importance of the holly berry could be representative of the Green Knight's intentions: peaceful ones (though this could be argued given the challenge offered by the knight). Regardless that the knight seeks a potentially deadly challenge, the berries could foreshadow that no harm will come to either man who participates in the challenge.


Made by man, typically, an axe brings only one thing- death. Gawain takes the axe to the Green Knight's neck believing that the blow will kill him. Unfortunately for Gawain, the blow does not kill the Green Knight and, therefore, Gawain must uphold his part of the deal and meet the knight one year later to receive his own blow.

In the end, the axe represents something very different: sacrifice and forgiveness. In the end, the Green Knight accepts Gawain's treason by his refusal to give up the sacred belt. The Green Knight admits that he understands why Gawain refused. At Arthur's castle, after the telling of Gawain's quest, Arthur makes all of his people wear a scarf around their own necks to honor Gawain.

The importance of the berry and the axe show the balance between the Green Knight's own manifestation of both natural and created being. The Green Knight's existence contains elements of both natural and artificial pieces.

Typical to Medieval texts, balance was very important. Numerology and color tended to balance out both the story and the knight upon the quest.


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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

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