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Summary

The story of Gawain and the green knight is primarily about Gawain's male identity. The problem with this is that during the middle ages men demonstrated their maleness through sexual action but Gawain abstains from sex. The obvious question then is how does Gawain maintain his masculine image if he never engages in sex?

Griffiths says that Gawain is surrounded by father figures who make his repress his sexual desires. The First of these figures is the Green Knight who proves superiority by surviving a decapitation. The second is Arthur who makes sure Gawain does as he should. Gawain's superego is formed from Arthur's expectations of him. The third father is Christ who Gawain believes is watching to make sure he behaves properly. Finally, Bertilak represents the fourth father figure. Bertilak, like Arthur, keeps Gawain from straying into sexual desires. In the end, Gawain succeeds because he did not engage in sexual activities so the Green Knight lets him live. When Gawain returns home, Arthur reinforces this sentiment.

Interpretation

In this paper, Griffiths uses a psychological strategy to interpret Gawain and the green knight. The first and most obvious reason I came to this conclusion is the title of the paper "A Psychoanalytic Approach…" Throughout the paper Griffiths uses Freud's model of the human psyche as well as his stages of development. The interpretation of the four father figures closely matches what Freud said about the Phallic stage of development. The Green knight has the power to castrate Gawain and Gawain abstains from having sex with his wife. Griffiths also shows that the Green Knight is superior to Gawain because he survived a symbolic decapitation.

The other father figures keep Gawain in line too according to this interpretation. Arthur supervises Gawain during the arming and then throws him a lance, a phallic symbol. Gawain believes Christ is watching over him so he obeys Christ rather than find out how Christ will punish him. Finally, Gawain stays out of trouble at Bertilak's castle were Bertilak replaces Arthur as a father figure.

Evaluation

This evaluation seems to work for the most part but because the Green Knight and Bertilak are the same person they should not count as separate father figures. Secondly, by Freudian terms Arthur does not fulfill the role of father either. Arthur may represent the closest thing to a father in Gawain's life but he does several thing which contradict Freud's father figure. Gawain does not have animosity toward Arthur the he does toward the Green Knight. After all, it is the Green Knight who wants to cut off his head, not Arthur. Similarly, Gawain does not go through the same trial with Guinevere the he does with Bertilak's wife. Since Gawain is abstaining from sex it would also seem like his is in the latent stage not the phallic stage. Even Griffiths uses the part of the text where Gawain says he is remaining celibate for this part of his life. In Conclusion, the Green Knight is the only complete father figure while the other three are reminiscent of Freud's model, they do not display all the characteristics of the father like the Green Knight does.




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