Gawain And Green Knight
As a contemporary American reader, it is all right to assume that the first
scene in which the particular character is involved drastically shapes our
opinion of characters in a particular novel or poem. Immediately we jump to
conclusions about what is right and what is wrong, who is the good guy and who
is the bad guy. In fact, once we get an initial impression from a character, it
is unlikely that this opinion will change as we continue to read on, unless of
course some drastic events take place. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is an
excellent example of a poem where first impressions may not be the most
important to the reader. As the opening scene unfolds, we are introduced to a

Green Knight who seems extremely high on himself and Gawain who seems full of
confidence and is ready to take on any challenge. However, the events that take
place later in the poem will most definitely have an impact on the way we view
each character individually. We are automatically forced to take sides, one of
the characters is bad and one of them is good. It is absurd for someone to think
that this not be the case when two people confront each other in such a dramatic
opening scene. By looking at the incidents that happen throughout the course of
the poem, you can begin to see just how binary opposition can be reversed.

Charles Bressler, in his book entitled Literary Criticism, defines binary
opposition by saying that "for each center, there exists an opposing center
(God/humankind, for example)" (125). In this case, the opposition revolves
around the moral character of both Gawain and the Green Knight. The two
characters themselves can be said to be binary opposition. Bressler expands by
saying that "Western philosophy holds that in each of these binary
operations or two opposing centers, one concept is superior and defines itself
by its opposite or inferior center" (125). The most common binary
opposition that one thinks of is good versus evil and it is unfortunate that the
first few pages of text often draw the lines for us, thus limiting the amount of
influence we are susceptible to throughout the rest of the novel. Like the
famous line says, "you only have one chance to make a first
impression." But the fact is the first impression that the Green Knight
gives the readers could not be further from the truth. In fact, everything that
he stands for in the opening scene is basically a front that he puts on in order
to lure Gawain into his scheme. However, the audience becomes captivated by the
changes that occur after the opening scene. No longer are their previous
dispositions correct and their ideas that were once so firmly planted in their
minds is not totally reversed. Gawain is the unknowing victim and falls prey to
the Green Knight who proves that he has the upper hand. By looking at Gawain's
actions, and comparing them to the hunters who went out each day, there is a
definite similarity. Finally, we must examine what the author's ultimate purpose
is when he shows how the two characters undergo such a dramatic transition. So
why exactly are we so quick to put Gawain in the category of evil? It definitely
can be contributed to his disrespect for the ceremony that is going on in King

Arthur's court. The Green Knight simply rides in and disrupts the feast,
demanding that someone challenge him to a beheading contest. At this time, royal
feasts are one of the most highly treasured events in the castle, and for
someone to ride in on a horse and provoke such a ridiculous challenge is
unthinkable. "Yet he had no helm, nor hauberk neither, nor plate, nor
appurtenance appending to arms, nor shaft pointed sharp nor shield for
defense" (206). So here is the Green Knight, no invitation to the feast and
just out to look for a challenge from another night. Obviously, there is a
problem in the way he is conducting himself. The person that would answer to
this beheading challenge would be Sir Gawain, a knight who made King Arthur
proud. It seems to me as though Gawain was a little reluctant to participate in
the game (that was really all it was at the time), but he saw it as a way to
gain the respect of Arthur and that was the goal of every knight. In fact Gawain
seems worried that Arthur himself might accept the challenge of the Green

Knight. "Though you