What qualifies one to be a hero like Gawain in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a tale of a knight's passage to true manhood and maturity.

  • Bravery - Sir Gawain is bold and brave in volunteering to take the place of King Arthur and accept the challenge of the Green Knight:

I pray thee [Arthur] of thy grace
Be this adventure mine!"

Unfitting do I deem that such a boon be sought....
While many a valiant knight doth sit beside thee still

  • Honor and Self-discipline - Sir Gawain honors his agreement to meet the Green Knight in the Green Chapel. On his way, he comes upon a castle in an enchanted forest and stops there. He is welcomed and invited to spend the holidays there. While staying at the castle, Sir Gawain refuses the advances of the lady while Sir Bernlak is gone.
  • Courage - Sir Gawain honors his agreement with the Green Knight, meeting him at the Green Chapel. Gawain bravely faces death after the Green Knight reveals that he is actually Sir Bernlak and he knows that Sir Gawain has kept the green girdle without telling him. For this reason, he gives Sir Gawain two feints, and one blow, but it just breaks the skin.

These traits of bravery, honor, and courage are what make Sir Gawain a hero. When he returns to the court of King Arthur, although Gawain later reproaches himself for coveting the green girdle, his only fault is wanting to save his own life. Ironically, this flaw makes Gawain seem more real; consequently, it becomes easier to admire his virtues of courage and knightly courtesy as the other knights do when they laugh at his saying he will wear the girdle to remind himself of his sin. They agree to also wear green girdles as a symbol of Gawain's honorable adventures:

Each of the Brotherhood, should bear, as baldric bound,
About his waist ...a badge of green so bright 
This would they fitly wear in honour of that knight.