One Tragic Defeat
The poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, illustrates the perfection of a knight throughout his life. Sir Gawain the perfect knight goes on a Christmas game quest provided by the Green Knight which tempts his purity and eventually ruins the ideal knight he used to be. In the criticism, “A Psychological Interpretation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”, the critic Stephen Manning argues that the poem centers on Gawain’s feeling of guilt.
On the other hand, P. J. C.
Field a critic who wrote, “ A Rereading of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”, argues that Gawain’s sin in accepting the lady’s girdle is minimal. The remainder of the criticism portrays the comparison between the two critics mentioned. The feeling of guilt occurred once during Sir Gawain’s life; this one time happened to be the day a faultless knight receives his first sin. Sir Gawain holds the situation seriously, and it affects the rest of his life. For example, the green belt Gawain wears, “symbolizes both [his] shame and his self-knowledge” (Manning 158).
Manning explains the color green as a symbol of rebirth, therefore the green belt Sir Gawain carries around resembles the revival of on his short comings. Gawain discovers he is not perfect and learns from his mistakes, thus he becomes a finer, more superior knight which he wishes to become. For instance, Gawain illustrates himself as evil thus informs his peers, “for evil to exist, it must exist in the good” (159). Manning describes Gawain as a perfect person, one without sin, as if he were a god.
Gawain’s peers strive to become like him, so his sin exhibits the impurity and imperfection of human kind. Gawain reveals to his peers that everyone makes mistakes, and should not dread or guilt over them. Guilt demonstrates the psychological feelings of Sir Gawain in the poem. Accepting the girdle for the Lord’s lady is temptation, therefore a mortal sin, but for the predestination of oneself, keeping the girdle was a hard decision to make. Venial sin refers to sin that accidentally happens, whereas mortal sin conveys a sin as one that was supposed to happen.
If one commits mortal sin, she or he must visit a priest for penance; but if one commits a venial sin, she or he must ask for forgiveness through prayer. Altogether when anyone asks for forgiveness he or she is forgiven and remains pure. Thus, Gawain only commits a venial sin but, “venial sin is evil: absolutely, for a man who wants perfection; for a man who is near perfection; and for a man who is possibly… habitually free even from venial sin” (Field 260). Manning argues that to Gawain, a venial sin is evil because he has never committed a sin in his flawless life as a knight.
Manning also acknowledges that Gawain takes his first sin solemnly and holds it against himself. He eventually notices that all the pain and suffering he has been through had a reason. Consequently, Gawain returns with a green belt to, “the court to which [he] returns must be taken as giving the judgement of humanity” (261). Manning implies that through Gawain, everyone in the court shall learn from his mistake and should be prepared and knowledgeable in the future. Through the suffering of a noble and perfect knight, everyone benefits from their courteous peer.
Entirely, the acceptance of the lady’s girdle was a venial sin or minimal sin because he did it for the sake of keeping his life. The acceptance of the lady’s girdle led to the guilt of Sir Gawain and the judgement of others. “But accepting the girdle is not a sin in the theological sense” (Manning 157). Manning is insinuating that the girdle is not a mortal sin but instead a chivalric sin. Therefore Gawain should not be humiliated through guilt as it is not a theological sin, which makes him a perfect man religiously but not through the state of chivalry.