Essay Questions For Sir Gawain And The Green Knight
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is one of those stories that could be made into a box-office hit. It has action, adventure, love, and seduction. Sir Gawain’s reputation precedes him in many instances, and he tries to live up to people’s expectations.
While some students may have a hard time finding the entertainment and excitement in Sir Gawain, once you start picking through it for your analysis, you’ll start discovering all the good stuff. You just need a little push in the right direction.
Well … that’s why I’m here. I’ll give you a few smart ideas for your Sir Gawain and the Green Knight analysis that’ll make the story not only more enjoyable for you to read, but will also make your analysis more enjoyable to write.
3 Ways to Approach Your Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Analysis
There are many different ways to analyze a piece of poetry or literature. This biggest thing is, don’t try to analyze every single detail. This will lead to a long, disorganized paper with no real point.
Instead, think about one or two elements of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and use those elements to build your thesis statement.
A strong thesis statement makes a point. And a strong analysis sticks to the thesis throughout the entire paper. It’s important to write your thesis before you start writing the rest of your paper. This ensures you have a clear direction to show where your analysis is heading.
Before you go diving head first into building the perfect thesis statement, let’s look at a few different paths for writing a killer Sir Gawain and the Green Knight analysis—plot, characters, and literary devices.
Let’s dive into teach of those in more detail.
The plot is basically the storyline of the poem. However, keep in mind you’re writing an analysis, not a summary. Break down each plot point, and explain its significance to the rest of the story.
Characters, like plot, are easy to simply summarize—so don’t fall into that trap here, either. Choose one character, such as Gawain, the Green Knight, or Lady Bertilak, and show your reader you really understand the character. You can write about a character’s motivations and the actions that have the most impact on the story.
There are many literary devices to choose from—various themes and symbols are apparent throughout the text. Given the number of options, writing about literary devices can be easier than writing a plot or character analysis because you won’t run out of material—and you won’t fall into the trap of summarizing.
Now that you know three of the roads you can take, I’ll give you some specific details about each one. I cannot possibly fit all the characters, symbols, and plot points into one post, so think of this list as a starting point to generate your own ideas.
Writing a Good Plot Analysis for a Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Analysis
A story isn’t a story without a plot, right? While some pieces of literature break the normal structure—exposition, rising action, conflict, falling action, resolution—Sir Gawain sticks with convention.
But how do you analyze the plot? Simply stating what happened is not enough. Instead, include a brief summary of what happens at each plot point. Then add any or all of the following:
- why it’s important
- its causes and effects
- the roles various characters or settings have
- how it conveys various themes
- any trends or patterns you see
My Sir Gawain plot analysis might look something like this:
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight explores the theme of chivalry throughout various points in the poem. As a knight, Gawain must stand up for his king, which pulls him into the game with the Green Knight in the first place. When Gawain stays at Lord Bertilak’s castle, he accepts Lady Bertilak’s gift primarily because he thinks it will make him immortal, but partly because it is the chivalrous thing to do if a lover offers a gift or token. Finally, because of Sir Gawain’s chivalrous and honorable nature, he voluntarily wears the girdle as a sign of shame.
For your own Sir Gawain and the Green Knight analysis, you can choose a theme or other literary device to tie the plot points together. You could discuss another way in which they are interconnected (i.e., through cause and effect).
The basic plot points are as follows:
- Exposition: King Arthur is having a feast with his knights and refuses to eat until he hears about or sees something amazing. Enter the Green Knight, who explains that he has a game. He will withstand a blow from one person if he can return a blow in a year and a day.
- Rising Action: After no one volunteers, the Green Knight chooses King Arthur to play. Instead, Gawain steps in and decapitates the Green Knight. But the Green Knight picks up his head and rides out of the castle.
- Conflict: Sir gawain travels to meet the Green Knight the following year and stays in a castle in an enchanted forest. The host of the castle, Lord Bertilak, proposes a trade of their winnings for each day and brings to Gawain the deer and other animals he hunts. Gawain flirts with and kisses Lady Bertilak, and gives the host the kisses he’s won. Lady Bertilak then gives Gawain a girdle and says it makes the wearer invincible. He, of course, keeps it.
- Climax: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight meet to fulfill the second part of the game. After two fakeouts, the Green Knight brings the ax down on Gawain, whose skin breaks, but he is not killed.
- Falling Action: The Green Knight reveals that he is Lord Bertilak and that he knows Sir Gawain did not hold to his word in the second game. He kept the girdle for himself. The entire process was just a test of honor.
- Resolution: Sir Gawain decides to wear the girdle as a sign of his shame and failure. But the other knights adopt a similar fashion and eventually turn the girdle into a symbol of honor.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Analysis: Gawain
Would you lie or cheat in a game if it meant saving your own life? I think most of us would. Sir Gawain certainly would. In a character analysis of Sir Gawain, you want to do more than tell the character’s role in the story—you want to discuss his attributes and how those characteristics apply to the story.
Sir Gawain is known for being chivalrous, noble, and virtuous—everything a knight of the Round Table should be. He is also modest and doesn’t think he’s as awesome as everyone else thinks he is.
Well, after a long journey and some soul searching, he ends up being right. He lies about the green girdle, thereby breaking the rules of the game.
However, he does the honorable thing by vowing to wear the girdle as a visible recognition of his shame. In doing so, he (and the other knights) turn the girdle into a symbol of honor.
Going Green: Symbolism in Your Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Analysis
Green sticks out a lot in this poem—after all, the Green Knight is basically the Jolly Green Giant. But what does it mean?
Writing an analysis of the symbolism in the color green could take you in a lot of different directions. One of the most common analyses of the symbolism of green in this poem is that it represents nature.
While this is certainly true, you want your analysis to stand out more, don’t you? So go for an interpretation that’s different—survival.
The color green’s association to survival is shown right away. The same power that turns the Green Knight green is responsible for making him survive a decapitation.
This survival symbolism continues when Lady Bertilak gives Gawain the green girdle and tells him it makes the wearer invincible. Even though this turns out to be untrue, Gawain wears it in order to survive.
Green is not the only symbol or literary device you can use in your analysis. Get creative with it! You can discuss themes and motifs, structure, point of view—really just about anything as long as you have the evidence from the text to back up your claims.
Writing Your Own Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Analysis
Now that you have some ideas for your Sir Gawain and the Green Knight analysis, it’s time to start writing! Check out these Literary Analysis Essay Tips if you need some more information before getting started.
Need a little more inspiration before you dive in? Check out these example Sir Gawain and the Green Knight analysis essays to see how other students approach their analyses:
And as always, you can send a copy of your essay to the Kibin editors when you’re done writing it. They’ll make sure your paper is awesome enough to make your classmates turn green with envy.
Psst... 98% of Kibin users report better grades! Get inspiration from over 500,000 example essays.
2. Why is Sir Gawain and the Green Knight said to be written in alliterative verse?
3. While describing the knights and ladies of Arthur's court, the Gawain poet alludes to some of the values of his audience? What adjectives, used to describe these scenes of "revelry", correspond to these values?
4. How does the poet describe King Arthur? Does he remind you of anyone you know or have known?
5. What does Arthur challenge the Green Knight to do? Why, do you think?
6. What is the Knight's reaction to this challenge?
7. How does Sir Gawain rationalize his request of Arthur that he be the one to accept the Knight's challenge? What qualities does he thus show?
8. What bargain does the Green Knight strike with Gawain?
9. Describe the reaction of the gathered crowd to the spectacle that enfolds before Arthur.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS ON PART II OF SIR GAWAIN AND THE GREEN KNIGHT (c. 1350)
1. Why did the lords and ladies have "sorrow" for Gawain? Why did they "make mirth" for his sake? (l. 540)
2. Why do you think the Gawain poet aggrandizes Gawain by describing his equipment and clothing in such extravagant and hyperbolic detail? (566-589)
3. What might the significance of the birds that are embroidered on Gawain's suit be? (610)
4. What are Gawain's "five virtues"? (651)
5. Summarize the attitude of Gawain's kinsmen to the King who allowed his knight to dual with a Green Knight "for empty pride", "caught in a cavil [conspiracy] in a Christmas game"? (674-683)
6. What do you think is the dramatic significance of the fact that the townspeople are unable to give Gawain directions to the Green Chapel of the Green Knight? (707)
7. Who is the "Sire" to which the poet refers in l. 751?
8. Gawain is praised more extravagantly by those who await his appearance for dinner than by any who knew him at the Round Table, earlier in the epic. Why, do you think, he seems to have grown in the poet's--and reader's--eyes? (916-927)
9. For what reason do Gawain and his host sit together, "soberly"? (940)
10. Speculate on the symbolic significance of the two ladies--one old and weathered, the other "fresh as the first snow"? (956)
11. The final passage of Part II is reminiscent of what earlier passage in the epic?
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS ON SIR GAWAIN AND THE GREEN KNIGHT--Parts III and IV
1. Why, do you think, the Green Knight feigns sleep when the "lady" appears at his bedside? (line 1187)?
2. What is the "truce" that the lady proposes to Gawain? (1210-1240)
3. Restate the meaning of the sentence that begins, "But there are ladies, believe me . . .". (1251)
4. What are Gawain's three reasons for not accepting the lady's advances? (1266, 1276, 1283)
5. Sir Gawain combines three "games" that were part of every epic poet's repertoire in the 14th century--"Blow for blow"; "Temptress"; and "You get part of my winnings". What do you think is the thematic significance of each to the story? (1384)
6. Part III tells the story of the three hunts on which Gawain's host goes; each is accompanied by a visit of the "lady" to Gawain's bedchamber. What do you think is the symbolic significance of the deer, the boar, and the fox--each of which is killed by Gawain's host, respectively?
7. Is there any correspondence between each of the animals' symbolic significance and the behavior of knight and lady during each visit? (1208, 1471, 1746)
8. Do Gawain's prayers seem inspired genuinely by faith? (1876)
1. Why is it said that Gawain decides to keep the girdle the lady had given him? Is such a reason truly chivalric? (2040)
2. How does Gawain's host describe the Green Knight? (2097-2117)
3. Do you think it is "for the love of Christ" that Gawain's host advises him to avoid the forest where the Green Knight lurks? Which is the more Christian alternative--to reciprocate the
bargain with the Knight when one knows one is not immortal, or to flee it? Support your answer with a passage from either Deuteronomy 30: 18-20, 2 Kings 18: 31-33, or Joshua 21: 44-46 and 23: 13-15. (1220)
4. What would his host say he would do in Gawain's position? (2150)
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS ON SIR GAWAIN AND THE GREEN KNIGHT, Part IV--continued
5. What is Gawain's final answer to his generous host? (2157)
6. Describe the Green Chapel, in your own words. (2180 ff. [and following])
7. "God love you!" says the Green Knight when he spies Gawain. What might the significance of this casual aside be, in the long run? (2239)
8. How does Gawain react to the axe's blow? (2265-2267)
9. What is the Green Knight's response? Is it reasonable? (2269-2279)
10. How does Gawain qualify his request to the Knight for a second chance? Who seems more reasonable, then? (2282)
11. What is the significance of the words Gawain uses to provoke the Knight to use his axe as promised? Do they have any relationship to the outcome? (2284-2287; 2300-2301)
12. "Harry me no more!" cries Gawain after the Knight misses his head and grazes only his neck-- intentionally. What is Gawain's reaction to seeing his own blood in the snow? (2315 ff.)
13. Why does the Knight excuse Gawain's enjoyment of the Knight's wife? (2366-68)
14. What is Gawain's angry response to the Knight's story? Do you think it is warranted? (2378-2388)
15. How does Gawain's attitude toward the green girdle mirror his attitude toward the ordeal he has endured? (2329-2437)
16. We learn that the Green Knight is really Bercilak de Hautdesert, who owes his power to sinister Morgan le Faye, Gawain's aunt! The Knight tells Gawain he has "tested" him because his aunt wanted to reveal the "surfeit of pride" in Arthur's Court as well as to scare Arthur's wife, Guenevere, with the mock beheading. What is Gawain's reaction to these revelations? (2445)
17. What is Gawain's filial relationship, then, to King Arthur, the Green Knight, and the Knight's wife? (2464-2467)
18. Finally, what do Gawain's neck scar and the green girdle he wears symbolize, for him? What are their parallels in the Bible? (2506-2512)