The relation of the individual to society is uniquely displayed in both the anonymous author’s, otherwise known as the Pearl Poet, Sir Gawain and theGreen Knightas well as Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale. It can be argued that Gawain’s relation to society is revealed as he explores of the notion of temptation through a rigid set of codes, laws, and rules ultimately displaying his utmost respect for the court and in turn greater society. With that being said, Gawain’s fixation on his reputation greatly contributes to his relation to society. On the other hand, it can be said that the Wife of Bath’s relation to society is displayed in her unconventional attitude towards the sanctity of a woman’s role in society thereby connoting her disregard for having an immaculate reputation. In the beginning of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,Gawain’s relation to society is underscored by his firm upholding of chivalric code. Gawain’s upholding of chivalric code is displayed in many forms. Gawain promptly insists that he should accept the Green Knight’s request to partake in the beheading game so that King Arthur does not have to take part in “such a foolish affair” (358-361). Later on, Gawain further complies with chivalric code in accepting the rules of the Green Knight’s beheading game as he begins to locate the Green Knight during Michaelmas (532-534). The two aforementioned examples underscore the high level of regard Gawain held for respecting the code as well as respecting others such as King Arthur and the
Khan 2Green Knight. Gawain’s ability to uphold chivalric code and in turn further his selfless relation to society is compromised as he encounters the tempatious girdle upon unknowingly reaching the Green Chapel (1850-1857). Ultimately, Gawain’s upholding of chivalric code is restored upon confessing to the Green Knight that he did in fact retain the green girdle in order to provide him with safety from blows (2280-2304). The ending of the poem parallels Gawain’s relation to society as he is admittedly humiliated by his indiscretion, but he takes it upon himself to restore his reputation by wearing the girdle; “I was tainted by untruth. This, its token, / I will drape across my chest till the day I die” (2509-2510).In The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale, the speaker argues that experience is the highest level of authority, and since she has been married five times she believes that qualifies her as such.The irony of the aforementioned notion unravels as she citesthe Bible as the primary justification to excuse her promiscuous behavior (Harvard, 1-13). Moreover, the speaker reiterates her disregard for conventional attitudes surrounding a woman’s role during that time as she discusses her ability to control her husbands by saying, “I governed hem so wel, after my lawe, / That ech of hem ful blisful was and fawe / To brynge me gaye thynges fro the fayre” (Harvard, 219-221). The speaker continues to overturn traditional conventions of a woman’s role in society at that time by questioning the legitimacy of religious implications of maidenhood. The speaker goes on to express that the religious notions set forth are merely recommendations and the rest is up to the discretion of the women (Harvard, 64-72). This notion gives way to the greater implications of the speaker’s relations to society because whilst at first it may appear as though the speaker is trying to be a champion for women of that time by overturning the misogynistic tendencies of marriage, it can be argued that her intentions are entirely self-motivated. The speaker’s relation to society is one of self-validation whilst flaunting her tainted
Khan 3reputation rather than restoring it. In sum, the Wife of Bath is seemingly unconcerned with her reputation and her relation to society as she provides, rather ironic, examples to justify her behavior.In sum, both Gawain and the Wife of Bath convey a unique relation to society. Gawain’s relation to society rests on his ability to maintain the chivalric code and in turn retain a good reputation. On the contrary, the Wife of Bath’s relation to society is arguably more complicated as she toys through the pros and cons of marriage all whilst citing the Bible. Therefore, it can be said that the Wife of Bath is less concerned with how she is viewed by society and takes pride in her unconventional mentality.