I nearly gave up on this post. The difficulty of finding an answer for this meme topic distressed me. For a bibliophile to be faced with an inability to choose a single literary character he very much relates to is a troubling concept, for is that not one of the highest purposes of stories, to learn more about ourselves by experiencing the lives of fictional characters? Yet I do not typically read a book and think “Wow, I really identified with that character.” Perhaps some people do, but it is just not the way I think. My approach is not, I think, to look for how a character is similar to me, but to simply try to understand him on their own terms. That is my general approach, I think – I cannot claim to be as objective as that sounds.
Still, after spending many hours wondering, I finally settled on a plausible answer.
Sir Gawain from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
I relate to him spiritually. As Gawain eagerly loves and serves King Arthur, who is also his uncle, so do I love and serve God, my King, who has declared me (as all Christians) to be his adopted son. As Gawain is dedicated to maintaining his purity and honor, as a Knight of the Round Table and a Christian man, so do I, as a Christian man, seek to maintain my own of both. And as Gawain is tempted so dangerously in these areas, so am I.
When the Lady of Castle Hautdesert tries to seduce Gawain, she does so with disarming grace and humor. Her intentions are clear, but her manner is not that of mere slut. Gawain is faced with a difficult quandary: how does he rebuff her and maintain his purity, while not offending her and possibly invoking her husband’s wrath? Now, as a Christian, it is clear to see what Gawain’s priorities should be; he should have fled from the Lady’s presence as soon as her intentions were apparent, and risked offending her. That would have been the best course of action. Gawain makes the mistake of trying to please the woman while still refusing her advances and maintaining his physical and spiritual purity. The danger is real: Gawain is deeply attracted to her beauty, intelligence, and grace, and is pleased by her flattery.
In my reading, I believe Gawain is truly, utterly sincere in his values. He knows that physical purity is not enough – God demands that he have pure thoughts as well as deeds. It is a difficult struggle, and one that every man can relate to, as we watch Gawain struggle over three days to figure out the right course of action. He is imperfect, and even though in the end he maintains his physical purity – which satisfies everyone else in the story – he knows that he did compromise his spiritual purity, and that bothers him. By human standards he did exceptionally well, morally, but Gawain knows that in God’s eyes he is still a sinner. His awareness is something I can relate to, even as I rejoice in the knowledge of God’s mercy and grace.