In the books The Big Sleep and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, both authors, Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep) and Simon Armitage (Sir Gawain and the Green Knight), create the protagonist of each story into archetypal knights. The protagonist of The Big Sleep is named Phillip Marlowe and in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight the protagonist is named Sir Gawain. The 3 knightly qualities that we will be focusing on in this essay are self-sacrifice, loyalty and courage. These qualities are displayed throughout each story in different and similar ways throughout each book.
In The Big Sleep, Phillip Marlowe displays self-sacrifice a few times throughout the book. Phillip Marlowe displays an act of self-sacrifice on page 129 and he says, “The smart thing for me to do was to take another drink and forget about the whole mess. That being the obviously smart thing to do, I called Eddie Mars and told him I was coming down to Las Olindas that evening to talk to him” . This act by Marlowe is an act of self-sacrifice, as he has the option to leave this case behind. He was just paid 500 dollars by General Sternwood to close the case, yet he has the urge to find out the truth about Rusty Regan.
Marlowe’s knightly character throws himself in another dangerous situation, in which he faces more thugs where his life is on the line. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Sir Gawain displays self-sacrifice as well a few times. An example of Gawain displaying this trait happens on page 20, line 354 when he says, “I am the weakest of your warriors and feeblest of wit; loss of my life would be grieved the least.” To this point Gawain was willing to take place in this challenge replacing the king. Gawain is willing to sacrifice himself to remain loyal to the throne. Throughout the whole book Gawain was willing to put his life in jeopardy so he could fulfill the covenant he made with the Green Knight.
The second knightly quality that we will be focusing on in this essay is loyalty. In The Big Sleep, Marlowe represents a knight by showing loyalty in the last paragraph of page 111 – first paragraph of page 112. “I left out a couple of personal matters. I intend to keep on leaving them out… Because my client is entitled to that protection…” Marlowe is loyal towards the Sternwood family as he specifically leaves out pieces of the story about Carmen and her family. This act of nobility ties directly to the figure of a knight, in which Marlowe represents.
Gawain as well displays loyalty throughout the book Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Gawain displays an act of loyalty on page 19, line 339. “Gawain now to his king inclines and says, I stake my claim. This moment must be mine.” Gawain intervenes with Arthur’s challenge with the Green Knight as he steps to the challenge in a form of loyalty to the crown. This act of loyalty is another sign that Sir Gawain represents a knight throughout the book.
The last knightly characteristic that we will cover in this essay is courage. Both protagonists, Phillip Marlowe and Sir Gawain demonstrate a lot of courage throughout each book. Phillip Marlowe displays this trait in The Big Sleep on page 33 when he says -At seven-twenty a single flash of hard white light shot out of Geiger’s house like a wave of summer lightning. As the darkness folded back on it and ate it up a thin tinkling scream echoed out and lost itself among the rain drenched trees. I was out of the car and on my way before the echoes died. This act was very courageous, as Marlowe had no idea what he was getting into. He decided that it was best to take a look no matter how dangerous it was. Marlowe is very courageous throughout the book.
Another quote from The Big Sleep is on page 202 Marlowe says “I shot him 4 times, the Colt straining against my ribs. The gun jumped out of his hand as if it had been kicked. He reached both his hands for his stomach.” This notion of killing Lance Canino is tremendously courageous as he had the opportunity to run and save his life but instead, he fought him and killed him. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Sir Gawain displays an ongoing act of courage during the whole novel. The whole journey that Sir Gawain performs is courageous as he is risking his life at the age of 16 only. As well, Sir Gawain is courageous because on page 98 the lord says to Sir Gawain -So banish that bogeyman to the back of your mind, and for God’s sake travel an alternative track, ride another road, and be rescued by Christ.
I’ll head off home, and with hand on heart I shall swear by God and all his good saints, and on all earthy holiness, and other such oaths, that your secret is safe, and not a soul will know that you fled in fear from the fellow I described. Gawain is courageous to continue on his path to the green chapel after the lord told him this speech on how treacherous the Green Knight is. As well, Sir Gawain was frightened by the Green Knight (Antagonist) but he overcomes this fear. Gawain shows tremendous amounts of courage when he accepts death for his fate. Gawain does this when he says on page 114,
-Through this I suffered a scar to my skin – for my loss of faith I was physically defaced; what a coveting coward I became it would seem. I was tainted by untruth and this, its token, I will drape across my chest till the day I die. For man’s crimes can be covered but never made clean; once entwined with sin, man is twinned for all time. This courageous feat performed by Gawain really represents the knight he really is.
In conclusion, both Phillip Marlowe and Sir Gawain are knights. Each display many qualities of them being an archetypal knight in both books. In my opinion, each protagonist, Phillip Marlowe and Sir Gawain present great qualities and I feel as if they define an archetypal knight.