Part of "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" is a King Arthur tale, but
part of it consists of morality plays, the "Parable of Talents,"
detailing the fate of "Everyman" as he encounters the world, through
an allegory detailing Everyman's death.
Everyman appears before God right before he is set to die. He wears
his richest clothes, trying to make himself appear better in God's
eyes. He tries to rely on what has occupied his life-- Kindred,
Fellowship, Goods, Beauty, and Riches-- but all of these figures
abandon him before the black figure of Death. They have been his
companions through life but they have no place with him in death. His
concerns now must be spiritual, not social. He is left alone with Good
Deeds, a frail figure almost in the ground-- he has not had many good
deeds in his life. They have been few and far between. In the "Parable
of Talents," it is shown that he has not had many talents that he has
shared with others during his life. Even if someone has no other
talents, they can use the one talent everyone has-- good deeds for
others-- and prove themselves worthy to God. Everyman did have
talents in his Good Deeds, but he let that quality in himself wither
and grow old and decrepit.
Everyman is chastised for his worldliness and through repentance is
beautified before God. He and his Good Deeds sink into the ground
together, bound together for eternity. He did not spend time with Good
Deeds during his life, but he will during his death.
Kindred and Fellowship are effective figures in the play because they
demonstrate what is not important in life. They abandon Everyman and
the only thing that can accompany him to heaven are his Good Deeds,
what he himself has done on Earth. In the eyes of God, Good Deeds are
all that matter. Kindred and Fellowship are an allegory for all the
things that humans in general take for granted while alive and waste
our time doing, when so many better things could be done with our
time. They are the forces in everyday life that force us to waste our
talents and to stray from God put us on Earth to accomplish. We spend
too much time on our relatives, friends and possessions to see what's
really important. The case of Goods and his forsaking of Everyman is a
particularly apt lesson-- one of the most important teachings in the
Bible is that material goods will get you nowhere and are futile
compared to a spiritual life. At the end, we all make the walk to
death alone, and nothing will accompany us. Even though Everyman is
young, the young can still die and so he should have taken pains to
prepare for his death and follow God's word.
Kindred, Everyman's cousin, does not love him as a relative should and
fails him in the end. Fellowship, Everyman's friend, does not stand by
him as a friend should and abandons him. Goods, Everyman's
possessions, can't do anything for him at this moment and never could
in the first place. Beauty and Riches are only secondary to a life
well lived for others. These are all things that Everyman thought
were important to him and he to they and would stand by him, but he
did not realize that they would not be there and would abandon him for
someone/something else at the time he needed them most. They stand for
what all of us spend (or more aptly, waste) our time on in our lives
while ignoring the most important aspects of what we really need to be
This part of the tale echoes the accompanying story of Sir Gawain, who
is distracted by other things along the way instead of being a
completely chivalrous knight. He thinks much of the Green Girdle, a
material possesion, instead of what's really important, just as
Everyman has focused on Goods. In the end, he is recognised for his
inner chivalry and given another chance. He also finds himself alone,
companionless, as Everyman does at the end of his life.
The parable has a decidedly Christian orientation, and is obviously
linked to a Christian tradition that what determines your fate in
heaven is your good deeds on Earth. Indeed, there is a "Parable of
Talents" told by Jesus in the Book of Matthew.
gawain and the green knight
gawain and green knight everyman
gawain everyman death
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