Symbolism of the Green Girdle in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a poem built on themes of chivalry and all that it entails. From the very beginning, the main character Gawain outlines the elements of chivalry in the five points on his shield and cites them as the virtues of the members of King Arthur’s court. However, in gauging these chivalric characteristics, it is important that readers acknowledge not only actions that embody chivalry, but also those actions that are not chivalrous. One key way that this is shown in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is through the symbolic green girdle. Though its symbolism is not fully realized until the end of the poem, this gift from the lady ultimately represents Gawain’s turn away from his chivalric goals in favor of saving his own life and later his return to chivalry. In looking at three short passages in the poem, the reader is made aware of the importance of this seemingly small and simple gift. The green girdle is first introduced to readers in the third fitt. After letting herself into Gawain’s room for the third morning in a row, the lady offers it to Gawain claiming that “For the body which is bound within this green belt,/As long as it is buckled robustly about him,/Will be safe from anyone who seeks to strike him,/And all the slyness on earth wouldn’t see him slain” (1851-1854). At this point in the story, we see the green girdle as a symbol of safety and perhaps even of hope for Gawain as he prepares for the final leg of his journey to meet the Green Knight. It is not until later in this passage that we begin to suspect an even deeper meaning to the gift. Following her offer, Gawain “mulled it over, and it entered his mind/it might just be the jewel for the jeopardy he faced/and save him from the strike in his challenge at the chapel./With luck, it might let him escape with his life” (1855-1858). It now becomes apparent to the audience that
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