In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, an important transformation takes place as Sir Gawain undergoes various forms of spiritual testing throughout the story. In this story, as opposed to previous stories in which the hero was fighting for his people, Sir Gawain is fighting for his integrity. Gawain must pass all the requirements of the ideal chivalric knight in order to triumph. He is presented with and accepts an opportunity to break free from the restraints of his youth and enter a world of valor. Yet, despite his eventual failure in the tests he encounters, he does in a sense become exalted. Gawain's understanding and acceptance of his flawed nature, and his confession lead to the Green Knight's absolution in the end.
The symbolism in the story strongly supports the idea of the rites of initiation. In Arthur's court, the party that was being held was in celebration of Christmas and New Year's.
The idea of the start of a new year suggests the end of one cycle and the beginning of a new. Gawain's testing is a passage rite, giving him the chance to move him from a realm of inexperience and youth into the new cycle involving maturity and bravery. By accepting the challenge of the Green Knight, he takes the first step towards this new cycle.
Gawain's choice to behead the Green Knight shows bravery in the highest degree. He knew that if his action did not kill the Green Knight, his fate would be death in one year and one day. He was prepared to face this fate and continued his actions as planned. As it turns out, the knight did not perish, and so Gawain was forced to go through with another segment of the passage rites. Several months after, Gawain had to...