Ideal Actions and Outcomes
Heroes are supposed to embody society’s ideals as an individual, but they do not always manage to live up to expectations. There are numerous circumstances that cause a person to act in a way that is dissonant to what he or she believes. The short story, “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” translated by Y.R. Ponsor, is centred on Sir Gawain’s conflict with himself that peaks when he breaks the code of chivalry that he swore to follow. The epic poem, Beowulf, translated by Lesslie Hall, is focused on a hero who has to save the morose King Hrothgar’s mead hall from a monster named Grendel. Lastly, the ballad Robin Hood and the Three Squires, recorded in the anthology “McDougal Littell Literature and Language: English and World Literature,” by Richard Craig Goheen, is about a man who saves three squires from execution but murders a sheriff in the process. While the characters in these stories are supposed to be heroic and act ideally by society’s standards, it is clear to see that they waver in their morals. Overall, acting outside of ideals can benefit a person in certain situations.
A hero may need to act outside of ideals if his or her life is in danger. Sir Gawain, as an honourable knight, has an obligation to not steal. When Gawain steals the scarf from the green knight to protect himself from the green knight’s strike, he breaks his code of conduct. What Gawain does not see after he is shamed by the green knight is that straying from what is considered right, by stealing the scarf, was the best thing he could have done in his situation. The action of stealing falls short of society’s ideal but it was necessary for Sir Gawain to keep his life as it protects him from the green knights strike. Furthermore, King Arthur and the people of his kingdom do not see Gawain as any less because he stole; they are just happy he is alive. This is evidence to say that the fears Gawain had about the consequences of dishonour are not concrete in his society.
Fear can influence a person to act in a way that is not ideal. King Hrothgar is supposed to be a hero and, before the Grendel crisis, he was. This is evident in how Hrothgar’s mead hall was popular before Grendel started causing trouble. Hrothgar was certainly a man who acted by society’s ideals but, after he saw what Grendel did, he lost his confidence as a king. Hrothgar sat in qualm and did not act against Grendel while his men were murdered. While cowardice is not characteristic of a king, acting against Grendel would have resulted in more damage to Hrothgar and his people. Any attempt made by Hrothgar and his men would have been futile and resulted in a net loss greater than what they experienced during the twelve years of Grendel’s guerilla assaults. Furthermore, Hrothgar’s failure as a king is what leads to Beowulf’s arrival. Making a king act so far outside of society’s ideal would have been enough to say that the threat of Grendel was worthwhile for a stronger hero to intervene. Hrothgar’s instinct to wallow in fear was what saved his life, and the lives of his men, from Grendel.
A person may act outside of society’s ideals if it is easier than following them. Robin Hood is a unique hero. All heroes are villains through some other perspective and Robin Hood is a perfect example. After freeing the three squires, Robin Hood murders the Sheriff who had the squires in custody. The murder of the Sheriff is certainly wrong by society’s standards and it is done without consideration of whether or not the man may have had value to his life. The sheriff could have had a family and been important to others. Robin Hood has his men kill the sheriff regardless. This act, that is uncharacteristic for a hero, was most likely done because it was the easiest option. Robin Hood would may not have wanted some sheriff telling his colleagues about the trickery he used when he disguised himself as a common peasant. It would have been far easier for Robin Hood to kill the sheriff, and it was probably of his own benefit to do so. The sheriff may have come back and either arrested or killed Robin Hood in the future. Even if Robin Hood just killed the sheriff for fun, or because he knew his men wanted to, he avoided potentially having information about him leaked.
Acting in questionable ways can have unforeseen benefits. By stepping outside of ideals, a person may put his or her self in a favourable position. Gawain saved his life by stealing from the green knight, Hrothgar did not get murdered by Grendel, and Robin Hood may have saved his own life if the sheriff potentially could have come after him in the future. The most common motive for acting outside of ideals is fear. Fear was certainly the motivation for Gawain and Hrothgar to act how they did, and a strong case can be made to say the same for Robin Hood. Intuitively, it seems like a purely negative thing to act outside of ideals. However, it is evident that this is not reality. Gawain and Hrothgar faced no consequences for their cowardice and Robin Hood was a villain to high society as soon as he freed the squires. In the end, acting in an unideal manner can be beneficial in some circumstances.
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Heroes are supposed to embody society’s ideals as an individual, but they do not always manage to live up to expectations. There are numerous circumstances that cause a person to […]