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Journal Article

Gawain and the Image of the Wound

Paul F. Reichardt
PMLA
Vol. 99, No. 2 (Mar., 1984), pp. 154-161
DOI: 10.2307/462158
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/462158
Page Count: 8

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Topics: Soul, Pentagons, Neck, Head, Narrative poetry, Cervix uteri, Church fathers, Wounds, Devotional literature, Malice
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Gawain and the Image of the Wound
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Abstract

The wounded neck of the hero in the Middle English Gawain and the Green Knight constitutes a subtle yet significant link in the chain of signs that shapes the poem's meaning. As illumined by the long tradition of commentary on the wound as moral emblem, the site of Gawain's nick draws on the Christian doctrine of the Fall, ancient philosophy's idea of the soul's anatomy, and the implications of the literary motif of beheading in order to suggest the nature of the hero's culpability. Gawain's fault, as signified by his wound, involves the disruption of reason's reign in the soul and is associated with the scriptural theme of stiff-necked pride. Paired and contrasted with Gawain's wound are the sacred wounds of Christ, signs of the remedy for the hero's fault and the basis of a parallel between the moral concerns of Gawain and its companion poem Pearl.

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