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Compare and contrast images of heroism in these two poems.

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Introduction

Derrick Matthews October 7, 2002 Engl 210 Heroism is a trait that we seem to have no problem identifying, yet when asked to define what a hero is a myriad of answers emerge. This phenomenon is not unique to today's society; the definition of a hero is something that is constantly under revision and debate. An example of this can be seen in two older pieces of English literature: Beowulf, written circa 750-900, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, written circa 1375-1400. These stories both have a main character that possesses heroic qualities, many of which are very similar. Gawain's identity as a hero is not clearly demonstrated, but when compared with Beowulf, who is demonstrated to be a hero, hiss merits earn him that title as well. Exactly what defines a heroic act, or a hero for that matter? Often times we dismiss the question due to its complex nature. But when confronted with an individual with heroic qualities we readily identify them as a hero. So what set of traits makes up this amorphous definition that we call hero? I would agree that the very definition is one that is dependent upon the time and society in which its context is being used. A person who shot someone to save the life of another may be viewed as a hero under the scrutiny of one culture, but in a different time or location the very opposite may be true. ...read more.

Middle

King Arthur at this point had already accepted the challenge, yet Gawain decided to take his place because he was aware of the danger and risk involved in letting the King fight. He admits just a few lines later that "I am the weakest, well I know, and of wit feeblest; /And the loss of my life would be least of any;" (lines 354-355) This indication that is ability to fight is low makes his decision to fight that much more heroic, and this is all done in the name of Arthur. Beowulf, on the other hand, does not have an issue of inferior strength, but quite the opposite- he seems to posses a sort of superhuman strength. Even so, his level of self restraint and wisdom prevents him from overthrowing Hrothgar despite his superior abilities. This amount of loyalty and service is a trait that helps develop his character even further as a hero. Both Gawain and Beowulf having been in similar instances serving a higher authority have shown heroic qualities although they may have differed. While the two main characters in discussion are being portrayed as heroes, they are still human and have fallibilities. It is the dynamic experience, the rise and fall of these characters which makes them real and human, that shows what they are truly made of. ...read more.

Conclusion

I'll concede that it was a cowardly thing to do, but then I'm forced to ask the rhetorical question, "What would you do?" Moments later, Gawain recomposes himself, doesn't flinch and gets nicked. Of course, one could argue that Gawain is a coward disguised as a hero because of his protest to the Green Knight claiming his debt is paid, and that he decided to use the green girdle. First of all, Gawain spends the rest of his days lamenting his decision to use the girdle, so he isn't ignorant of what he as done. Secondly, there is absolutely nothing heroic about dying without a cause, which is what would have been the case had the Green Knight carried out his threat. I see no harm done in preparing oneself for an encounter such as the one he went through. We often laude heroes for their cunning in wisdom, so why should those same traits in Gawain be looked upon negatively? While there are many more facets to declaring someone a hero, these are a few that both Beowulf and Gawain share. Beowulf demonstrates that its namesake is a man who is supposed to be regarded as a hero. This same intent is not made in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, but when the two are compared with each other, Sir Gawain is shown to be a hero, not a simple coward that he may initially appear to be. ...read more.

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