Figurative Language in Sir Gawain and The Green Knight

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The Poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

The poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight features a narration where a knight is challenged and thereafter proceeds to encounter the trial. He then returns home to give an account of the experience that he had in the unknown land. The event takes place after Christmas and the Green Knight suggests that his game would involve someone bold enough to strike him should be read to receive the same treatment in a year. Gawain accepts the challenge and after a year he sets out to search the Green Chapel where he agrees to exchange there hunts for the day upon return to the caste as they were awaiting thee Green Chapel. As the lord goes to hunt, the lady of the castle seduces Gawain who eventually submits to her demands and offer her lady kisses. It turns out that when the Chapel strike, he draws back twice and barely cuts Gawain's neck the third time. Upon his return to Camelot, the court wears green sashes as they adore Gawain. Throughout the poem, it become evident that the theme of traditions and societal customs is evident and improved through the use of appropriate figures of speech.

Alliteration in the Poem

The other significant aspect of figures of speech that is typical in the poem is the use of alliteration. It involves a sound effect where the poet narrates the same consonant sound in subsequent words in a line as a way of providing emphasis. An illustration of the use of this technique is found in line 173-175 when the poet states "The horse that he rides [is] entirely of that colour, in truth. A green horse huge and strong" (173-175). The significant sound in this case is the repeated use of the letter h as it appears is three words within the quote. The statement is used to underscore the position of the man in the society because they tend to occupy the dominant position. The subject of the horse being huge and strong is used to infer to the fact that a man is a strong entity in the society. It is relevant because it enables the poet to communicate the subject of tradition and customs because the poem was written during the mediaeval time when a man who could control a huge horse was perceived an indomitable one. It thus follows that the he size of the horse is indicative of a strong personality that was typical of the medieval tradition.

Personification in the Poem

The other important aspect of figurative language that is used to enhance the theme of traditions and customs in the poem is the use of personification. It is defined as a technique that involves the use of human characteristics by assigning them to inanimate object as a way of enhancing the reader’s imagination. An example of the use of the technique is when the poet writes "But then the weather on earth battles with winter, The cold shrinks downwards, clouds rise higher, And shed sparkling rain in warming showers, Falling on smiling plains where flowers unfold" (505-509). The statement that the poet wanted the reader to comprehend is that the seasons are designed to operate in a customary manner so that after one comes another, which is followed by the succeeding one. It is typical to find that after winter, the next year one experienced it again and the system continues indefinitely. It is described in a way that makes it appear that Gawain had to face his fate upon meeting the Green Chapel. The use of the statement the cold shrinks backwards means that Gawain was hesitant but based on the agreement that he had secured with the Green Knight about his fate after one year. The use of personification thus becomes significant because it is stated that the weather on the earth was battling, which in literal sense would mean fighting. It is used in the context of the approach seasons that meant that Gawain's fate was fast approaching.

Simile in the Poem

The third and last practical way in which the author presents the poem through a focus on figurative language is the consideration of comparison through the use of simile. It is described as a way of likening features but through the use of words such as like and as to substantiate the theme and enable the reader better understand the mood and setting of the poem. One of the most practical ways in which the poet makes use of figure of speech is through the use of simile in line 71 to 73 when he says, "All this merry-making went on until feasting time. When they had washed as was fir they took their places, The noblest knight in a higher seat, as seemed proper" (71-73). It was a moment of eating had arrived and the noble knight said to have assumed a sitting position that was as high as the proper position that they held. It is used to illustrate the theme of tradition in the ancient ties where the elderly and those holding key position in the society were perceived to be higher and they would be given favors. The same outcome is apparent when the reader relates with the poem because of the impression that is given to the knight. The theme of societal hierarchy is thus significant in such a case. An alternative description that constitutes simile use was when the poet was referring to the need for respect of the high classes in the society. The poet affirms "But of all those who dwelt there, of the British kings, Arthur was always judged noblest, as I have heard tell" (25-26). The impression that one gets is that the story is described in a commanding manner but Arthur had resorted to a noble way of responding. The author exaggerates the noble character that Arthur was demonstrating by describing that it was the wisest that he had received ever when he compares all similar experiences (Myer).


In summary, it is worth outlining that the theme of traditions and customs in the mediaeval times was relevant with the use of personification enhancing the way the reader understands the poem. One characteristic example is the consideration of alliteration through repetition of consonant sounds that are intended to create emphasis. Furthermore, the poem utilizes personification to make it appear that inanimate objects can perform human activities, with the goal intended to enable the reader perceive the subject critically. Lastly, the use of simile through comparison using as and like is significant as a communication strategy to enable the reader to engage critically with the poet. Overall, the poem is successful in making use of the different approaches of figurative language to communicate the theme of traditions and customs in the society.

Works Cited

Myer, Thomas. “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Line 1771.” Explicator 53.4 (1995): 188. Web.

August 21, 2023



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Literature Review Poetry

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