Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is an epic play from Medieval Times, once of the significant pieces of literature (in addition to Chaucer's Tales) to survive the Dark Ages. It details the Knight Sir Gawain who endures several tests of his soul on a journey pursuing the mysterious Green Knight.
Sir Gawain: victim or hero?
In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Gawain is more a victim than a hero. He is confronted with many obstacles, and overcomes quite a few of them, which would make him seem like a hero. However, he is more often the victim or the subject of someone’s trickery.
One of the main characteristics of a hero in a romance story is a journey. Gawain takes such a quest within this story, but he is perpetually being tested from all angles. During Gawain’s journey, “He [finds] himself facing enemies so foul / And wild that they [force] him to fight for his life" (ll. 716-717). When he gets to the lord’s castle, the challenges do not end there.
Gawain is always being tested at the lord’s castle, although it may seem that he is being treated with the utmost hospitality. The lord’s wife tries to seduce Gawain on three separate occasions, the second ending with one kiss and the last with three. Gawain feels obliged to do what the lord’s wife asks, as he says, “Your pleasure is my command, / Lady: I kiss as you wish, as a good knight" (ll. 1302-1303).
Also, the lord and Gawain make a deal to exchange whatever they find in their day’s work. This seems very conspicuous because the lord knows that Gawain is just going to be staying in the castle all day for his entire stay. The lord gives Gawain the fruits of his day’s hunting—boar meat and venison—at the end of two separate days, while Gawain can offer nothing in return.
However, on the third day, Gawain is convinced by the lord’s wife to take a belt that would protect him from danger. She begins by trying to get him to give her a parting gift. When he explains he “[has] no porters / With gifts…" (ll. 1809-1810) she suggests he accept a gift from her instead. He refuses an elegant and expensive ring, and the lady proceeds to a less valuable item. She finally convinces him when she says, “but take my belt, / Neither as costly nor good.” She tells Gawain it makes him invincible, saying, “For any man bound with this belt, / This green lace locked around him, / Can never be killed…" (ll. 1851-1853).
Gawain should give the belt to the lord at the end of the day because of the deal, but instead he keeps it for himself. It is later revealed that the Green Knight and the lord are the same person, and that Gawain’s entire stay at the castle was all one big test. In the end the Green Knight says, “That belt you’re wearing: it’s mine, my wife / Gave it to you—I know it all, knight / The kisses you took and gave and all / You did, and how she tempted you: everything. For I planned it all, to test you…" (ll. 2358-2361).
On another note, in the story Gawain is the subject of a higher force—magic. Morgana LaFaye, a witch, changes the lord into the Green Knight and is the one who sends him to Arthur’s court in the first place.
Gawain is more of a victim than a hero in this story because he is constantly being tested. He is the subject of peoples’ tricks and secret challenges while he is not aware. Also, the higher forces of wizardry and magic play a part in his fate. He is victimized all throughout the story, from the beginning when he first chopped off the Green Knight’s head to when he finally learned the Green Knight and lord were the same person.