Beowulf, from Beowulf, and Sir Gawain, from Sir Gawain and The Green Knight, are the titular characters of their respective tales, both considered to be heroes. However, they are two different types of heroes even though they both show the key attributes that make them considered to be heroes; Beowulf is the brave idealistic hero whereas Sir Gawain is a noble knight who is also modest and cares a lot about what people think of him so much so that he tells a lie to keep up his reputation.
In each story the antagonist forces the character to confront different challenges and qualities about themselves. The Green Knight forces Gawain to struggle to embody all the qualities expected of a knight. For Gawain the conflict is one of identity, of facing the tests thrown at him and seeing if he can come out on the other side staying true to the Knight he is believed, and believes himself, to be. Gawain’s enemy is temptation, at every corner the Knight is tempting him with luxury, with beauty, ultimately, this struggle shows us how human Gawain truly is. In the end Gawain fails for fear of death.
Beowulf’s is a much more physical battle, his is a question of strength, honor, and ability. Beowulf’s struggle is to live up to all he has boasted to be, at no point do we wonder if Beowulf’s strength of character will falter, only the strength of his arm. He had respect and power in his culture because, “all knew of [his] awesome strength,” and he held great pride in it and his abilities. Beowulf faces increasingly more vicious and brutal foes, facing his own mortality as he ages, as his strength fades, his ability to live up to his boasts leaving with it.
Beowulf is a powerful warrior of great strength and deeds, while Gawain is a great Knight of strong moral character and courteousness. Each of these men are hero’s in their own right, each rising to face the challenge thrown at him and failing through his flaws. Beowulf fears no death and charges into battle needing to prove his worth over and over again. Beowulf’s pride leads him to his demise, leads his people to loose their leader and fall into chaos. Gawain’s fear of death prompts him to turn his back on the qualities he holds so dear, and it is his lack of faith in these standards of character that very nearly leads to his demise.
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