Professor Martin World Literature

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Professor Martin

World Literature

6 August 2007

Sir Gawain and the Marines

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is about the ideals and codes that one knight of the Round Table lived by. The codes of chivalry and Christian beliefs guided this knight through many turmoils and challenges. Chivalry came from the Christian concept of morality, and this was a major idea in King Arthur’s Round Table. Even to this day, though many years have past and technology has changed our lives greatly, we still have so called “knights” that we call the Marines. They too have codes, oaths, and symbols they live by just as Sir Gawain did. They also are faced with the thought of death all the time, and face it with strength and courage.

In the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Sir Gawain takes on the challenge of the mysterious Green Knight with courage. He protects his king by taking his place in the challenge. Though he was unaware of the Green Knights supernatural abilities when he accepted the challenge, he still holds to the commitment he made and refuses to back out even after he realizes he had been tricked. He knows that within one year he will face the same blow that he gave the Green Knight based on the terms of the agreement, and his death will surely be the outcome. Sir Gawain shows honor for this lord, courage to face the Green Knight, and commitment to the challenge. These are the same codes that are used today and represent those we call Marines. The USMC or Uniform Code of Military Justice core values are honor, courage, and commitment. The Semper Fidelis was adopted by the Marines in 1883, and in Latin means “Always Faithful”. It is not just a motto but a way of life for these soldiers. The motto is as follows, “It is a commitment we all share to our country, to our corps, and to each other. This is why there are no ex-Marines, only former Marines”(Marines). They stand by their word just as Sir Gawain.

The Letter of the Law is what seems to keep Sir Gawain true to his challenge. In this story the word “covenant” is used to represent a set of laws in a religious world. Covenant is seen in both the New and Old Testaments. The author relates the current feel of Christianity and religion into the story at that time and place in history(Evans). The main scenes in the story are around the time of Christmas as well. Sir Gawain is bound to this values and Christian conduct. Sir Gawain throughout the novel does his very best to honor and live up to the beliefs in Christianity. One symbol of his strong beliefs is the image of the Virgin Mary that is shown on the back of his shield. He used his faith in Christianity for guidance.

The Marines have an oath or set of guidelines that they follow as well. The Marines hold this oath very dear and personal. The Marine Corps Oath is as follows, “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God”(Marines). Like Sir Gawain they too are bound by faith and to certain values of conduct.

Another set of ideals or guidelines that Sir Gawain followed are represented in his shield. The pentangle that appears on the front of his shield is a symbol of truth. A pentangle is a five-pointed star that is an endless knot that links each of the five pints together bringing unity to them. The five points represent Annunciation, Nativity, Resurrection, Ascension, and Assumption. It also applies to virtues of brotherly love, courtesy, piety, and chastity. As George Engelhardt writes in his analysis, “it has seemed more apt in this analysis to consider his predicament rather in terms of the three virtues that would govern the three domains of activity, the military, the religious, and the courtly, in which the complete knight, the veritable man, might demonstrate his perfection, or, as the poet has named it, his trawpe. These virtues shall be called valor, piety, and courtesy” (Engelhardt). All of which played a part in the thoughts or actions that Sir Gawain did throughout the story.

As the story progresses a new symbol appears that seems to represent the new situation and feelings of Sir Gawain. The green girdle is given to Sir Gawain as a gift from his host’s wife at the castle he finds on his journey to the Green Chapel. He is told that it has magical powers and can protect the person wearing it from harm. This is the first part of the narrative where you see the fear that Sir Gawain has at facing his own death. Sir Gawain is suppose to present the green girdle to his host after the hunt, but does not. Instead he decides to keep it a secret in hope that it will help him survive his encounter with the Green Knight. It is not until after the challenge with the Green Knight takes place that Sir Gawain finds out it has no power. He is also aware that he did not keep his word and has sinned. He is grief stricken that he has failed. The Green Knight forgives Sir Gawain in his disloyalty by stating, “Yet you lacked, sir, a little in loyalty there, But the cause was not cunning, nor courtship either, But that you loved your own life; the less, then, to blame” (2042). He further states after Sir Gawain shrinks back in shame to express his cowardly behavior, “Such harm as I have had, I hold it quite healed. You are so fully confessed, your failings made known, and bear the plain penance of the point of my blade, I hold you polished as a pearl, as pure and as bright As you had lived free of fault since you were born”(2042). The green girdle is given to Sir Gawain as a reminder of his failure, and he wears it on his arm for the rest of his life. It is also a symbol for King Arthur and the other knights as well. When Sir Gawain returns home he tells them that he failed the test, and what the green girdle represents. As stated by Robert C. Evans in his literary criticism, “Fortunately, Arthur and the other courtiers realize that Gawain’s failure could just as easily have been their own; their best knight has failed a test that any of the rest of them would probably have failed as well”(Evans). King Arthur and the other knights decide to also wear a green girdle as well. By doing this they join Sir Gawain and support him as a team by sharing in his defeat.

The Marines do not wear a green girdle but do have symbols and a hymn that represent them. The Eagle, Globe and Anchor is an insignia that they wear that symbolizes three elements. The eagle with spread wings represents a proud country, the globe points to worldwide service, and the anchor stands for maritime tradition. The hymn is a reminder for the Marines as the green girdle was to Sir Gawain, King Arthur and the other knights. It reminds them of the sacrifice and courage that they have shown on the battlefield. It is as follows, “From the halls of Montezuma, to the shores of Tripoli, we fight our country’s battles, In the air, on land, and sea, First to fight for right and freedom, and to keep our honor clean, We are proud to claim the title of the United States Marines, Our flags unfurl’d to every breeze from dawn to setting sun, We have fought in every clime and place, Where we could take a gun, In the snow of far-off northern lands, and in sunny tropic scenes, You will find us always on the job, The United States Marines, Here’s health to you and to our corps, Which we are proud to serve, In many a strife we’ve fought for life, And never lost our nerve, If the Army and the Navy, Ever look on Heaven’s scenes, They will find the streets guarded by United States Marines”(Marines).

The Marines as well as other troops from all of the armed forces all over the world are currently engaged in war. It takes a very strong and courageous person to be able to face an enemy that is somewhat unknown in a foreign land. To be able to protect your country with the thought in the back of your mind that you may be the next fatality must be very hard to deal with, yet the do it every day to keep our country and people safe. With urban warfare and suicide bombers, the troops can not always recognize a friend from foe. In the current news, reported today from Sameer N. Yacoub from the Associated Press, 28 people, 19 of them children, where killed by a suicide bomber. As of August 5, 2007 the death tolls of U.S. Military Deaths in Iraq alone is at 3,668, also reported by the Associated Press on (Associated). These numbers are of fatalities since the war began in March of 2003. Sir Gawain was one knight faced with the notion that death was upon him, and we now have thousands facing the same fate. We can only hope and pray that they too are protected and able to return home as Sir Gawain did.

Works Cited

The Associated Press. “U.S. Military Deaths in Iraq at 3,668” MSNBC 6 Aug 2007


Engelhardt, George J. “The Predicament of Gawain” Modern Language Quarterly. Sept. 1955,

Vol. 16 Issue 3, p218, 8p. Literary Reference Center. Ebscohost. 30 July 2007>.

Evans, Robert C. “Literary Contexts in Poetry: “Sir Gawain The Green Knight” Unknown

Author”. Literary Contexts in Poetry: Anonymous ‘Sir Gawain & the Green Knight’. 2006, P1-1, 1p. Literary Reference Center. Ebscohost. 30 July 2007. .

“Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” The Norton Anthology of World Literature Second Edition

Vol. B 100-1500. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2002, p. 2042.

The U.S. Marines. 4 Aug 2007 .

Yacoub, Sameer N. “Iraqi Political Crisis Grows” The Associated Press 6 August 2007


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