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There are so many wonderful characters in literature, many of whom have similar qualities and many more that are vastly different. In this lesson, we will explore the similarities and differences between the main characters from ”Beowulf” and ”Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.”

Definitions: Compare and Contrast

What does it mean to compare and contrast? The word compare refers to exploring similarities. In other words, to look and see how two or more things are alike.

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The word contrast refers to exploring differences. When you contrast, you look and see how two or more things are different.When we compare and contrast literary characters like Beowulf and Sir Gawain, we are essentially asking two questions:

  • What do these guys have in common?
  • How are these guys different?

Let’s try it!

Who Is Beowulf?

Beowulf is the star character in the epic poem Beowulf. An epic poem is a long poem that tells the story about something serious – like a fight between good and evil forces.

Beowulf is a warrior of a pagan tribe and is, in a word, awesome. He is the most famous, strongest, and all around greatest fighter around – and he isn’t afraid to tell you that. He spends his days fighting sea monsters, dragons, and any evil that threatens the land.

He brags about his skills, but he backs up all that talk with action and becomes the greatest hero around. When he dies, he is honored by the biggest funeral fire the tribe had ever seen.

Who Is Sir Gawain?

Sir Gawain is the main character in the Arthurian legend, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. An Arthurian legend is a story involving King Arthur or his knights.Sir Gawain is King Arthur’s nephew and one of his most loyal knights.

He is well known for his chivalry – by being honest, humble, loyal, pious (religious and pure), and having integrity. Essentially, this guy is the nice guy who stays by your side and has your back. In the story, he faces three challenges from the Green Knight. He fails one of them by lying to the Green Knight – he admits to kissing the Knight’s wife, but doesn’t mention he stole a belt, too. To earn back his honor, Gawain must fight the Green Knight.

This fight is pretty intense until the Green Knight cuts Sir Gawain, which inspires him to confess that he lied. He then returns to his uncle’s court with his honor restored.

Comparing Beowulf and Sir Gawain

Remember, when we say comparison, we are actually asking ‘How are these guys alike?’

Both Are Heroes

In literature, a hero is the main character of a story who goes on a journey, faces dangerous risks, and wins the battle between good and evil.

Beowulf is a hero because he journeys around the land, fighting the big, evil monsters that threaten his people. He does so for the good of his people just as much as he does for his own fame.Sir Gawain accepts a challenge with the Green Knight and goes on a journey to meet him. When they face off, even though he gets cut, he wins the overall battle of good versus evil.

Both Represent Good

These guys are both heroes, but their authors wrote them to purposefully represent the idea of goodness.

Look at Beowulf: the monsters he fights are, well, monsters – they are terrible, evil creatures. When he fights these monsters and wins, the author is telling us that good (Beowulf) will always defeat evil.The same is true for Sir Gawain. His monster, the Green Knight, represent the opposite of that chivalry Sir Gawain holds so important. By defeating him, the author is telling us that even when we mess up like Sir Gawain did, if we are true to ourselves, in the end our goodness will ultimately defeat the evil.

Contrasting Beowulf and Sir Gawain

Remember, contrasting means asking ourselves what is different about these two guys.

They Are Different Types of Heroes

Both of these characters are heroes, true.

But they are different types of heroes. Beowulf is a warrior – he goes into fights (in fact he seeks out fights) with his sword drawn and his fists flying. He wins by brute strength and stubborn determination. He also tends to brag – a lot – about his own strength.

Sir Gawain, however, is a knight, rather than a brawling warrior. He is more humble – he rarely brags about how strong or loyal he is. Additionally, while he is willing to fight when needed, he doesn’t typically go into fights with his sword already drawn. He is a more patient fighter.

They Follow Different Codes of Honor

While both characters have honor and are loyal to their lands and kings, they live by different codes of honor. Beowulf is a warrior and lives by the heroic code, which values strength, honor, and courage. This is what inspires him to fight and inspires him to win.

Sir Gawain, as mentioned previously, lives by the code of chivalry. He is honorable, strong, and courageous, like Beowulf, but he puts more value on being honest, humble, pious, and loyal. These are the traits that are important to him and inspire him to fight and win.

Lesson Summary

In this lesson, we compared and contrasted Beowulf and Sir Gawain. Remember, to compare something is to explore similarities. To contrast something means to explore the differences. Beowulf is the main character of the epic poem of the same name – an epic poem is a really long poem that tells a serious story.

Sir Gawain is the main character of an Arthurian legend – which is a story that somehow connects to King Arthur.These guys have a few things in common. Both are heroes – or the main character of a story who goes on a dangerous journey full of risks and wins the battle between good and evil. Both represent goodness, which is shown through their actions.They have some key differences, too.

They are different types of heroes; Beowulf is a warrior, and Sir Gawain is a knight. They have different codes that inspire how they fight. Beowulf follows the heroic code which values strength, honor, and courage. Sir Gawain follows the code of chivalry and values being honest, humble, loyal, pious, and having integrity.

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