Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Symbols

Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

The Pentangle

According to the Gawain-poet, King Solomon originally designed the five-pointed star as his own magic seal. A symbol of truth, the star has five points that link and lock with each other, forming what is called the endless knot. Each line of the pentangle passes over one line and under one line, and joins the other two lines at its ends. The pentangle symbolizes the virtues to which Gawain aspires: to be faultless in his five senses; never to fail in his five fingers; to be faithful to the five wounds that Christ received on the cross; to be strengthened by the five joys that the Virgin Mary had in Jesus (the Annunciation, Nativity, Resurrection, Ascension, and Assumption); and to possess brotherly love, courtesy, piety, and chastity. The side of the shield facing Gawain contains an image of the Virgin Mary to make sure that Gawain never loses heart.

The Green Girdle

The meaning of the host’s wife’s girdle changes over the course of the narrative. It is made out of green silk and embroidered with gold thread, colors that link it to the Green Knight. She claims it possesses the power to keep its wearer from harm, but we find out in Part 4 that the girdle has no magical properties. After the Green Knight reveals his identity as the host, Gawain curses the girdle as representing cowardice and an excessive love of mortal life. He wears it from then on as a badge of his sinfulness. To show their support, Arthur and his followers wear green silk baldrics that look just like Gawain’s girdle.