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Beowulf vs Gawain

by Thomas Tome 4 months ago in literature
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Character comparison

The story of Beowulf and the story of Sir Gawain, are clearly two different stories each reflecting values of two different cultures and traditions from different points in time. Beowulf is credited as a piece of literature from the Anglo-Saxon culture, which in its purest essence is a Germanic culture. A culture that was centered around war and combat prior to Christianity being introduced to the region. Not only did the culture venerate war and combat, it followed an oral tradition. Because of that Beowulf is a character fixated on combat, trying to prove himself as a great warrior and earning his place in legend to be passed on. He also regails the people in the hall with tales of his own victory, triumph, and might. To prove he is someone to be feared and respected. When it came to his fight with the monster Grendel, the monster most likely shows human fear as he is never given description as to what he looks like, he is the unknown and it can be put forward that Grendel is death itself, and the fact that Beowulf chose to fight bare-handed and left it up to fate to decide the outcome is a very important detail.

This is more of a remnant of the old pagan culture in that death was a fated thing, it came without warning and so any warrior would try to die in a glorious way mostly through combat, and because death came for all of them they often wanted their death to be something spectacular, something that would stand out. Which Beowulf was trying to do, die in a blaze of glory and if he didn’t kill Grendel he would have been remembered for a spectacular death. During the time in which the story was written and the era in which it was told, might and strength was all that mattered. You had to be tough just to survive and killing was the best line of business to be in and death was often the ultimate reward. Sir Gawain as a character comes from the Norman culture. Sir Gawain tries to be a chivalrous man. A man of honor, courage, courtesy, justice, and virtue.

Over the course of the story Sir Gawain is for the most part an upstanding Christian till he encounters Bertilak. Admittedly this is his first enemy, Bertilak's wife. In the story she tries to seduce Gawain and each time he turns her down. In retaliation Bertilak's wife calls Gawain's honor into question saying that an honorable man would not turn down a lady like her, but the only move he makes is a kiss. Each day he is there with her he gets a kiss, behind the back of his host and he doesn’t tell him. He lies, and another interesting fact is that Gawain deals with temptation for the entirety of his stay,from beginning to end. Temptation is one of humanity's greatest weaknesses according to the Christian church. Gawain's real enemy is temptation and all other human weakness, when he faces the green knight in the end he acts like a coward and is still rewarded for it, for trying and admitting to his lies and sins. All because in Norman and Christian culture to repent for weakness and sin is the greatest thing anyone can do and in most stories like this, its what makes the character a hero.

In the end what makes both characters memorable is the conditions that created the stories. Beowulf was from a much darker time where death was right around the corner and could claim your life at any moment, and Gawain from a romanticized world where faith would see you through anything.


About the author

Thomas Tome

Hello, my name is Thomas, and I love to write. I have a lot of ideas for stories and poems and I want to start sharing them with other people and hopefully get a bit of a following. FYI I am a huge nerd as well.

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