Woods’ “Nature and the Inner Man”

I chose Woods’ article because I was interested in the stark contrasts between nature and the courtly settings in the poem. I felt a lot of the points he made were apparent when I read the poem, but I had assumed the struggle for Gawain was between a lowly, natural state of man and a higher, rational state closer to god. The religious elements of the story stood out to me more as Gawain’s duty to a Lord and “the Lord” were often conflated. I assumed Gawain’s guilt served to show every man needs to show humility considering he’s apt to fall back on animal like instincts to survive. Woods gave lot of insight into this idea with Avicenna’s inner or lower thoughts, and the rational soul unique to humans. These ideas gave me more historical context for how I had already chose to read the poem, that is following the usual themes in romance narratives.

By the end of the article though, Woods gave more historical context that made me look at the poem in an entirely different context. He suggests that while looking at Gawain as a rational man that’s dealing with the natural world is a necessary part of the reading, a more intriguing view is “Gawain as a prototype of late-medieval individuality, or as an early symptom of bourgeois sensibility” (226). I thought this was fascinating because I read it with the assumption that historically prevalent view was of man being rational because of God-given reason. Woods’ suggestion though makes me rethink the order or events that made this a popular theme in romance narrative. Rather than think that Gawain’s courtly mannerisms upheld popularly held beliefs, I now feel like narratives such as this are why they became popular in the first place, especially because of the associations to piety. He makes interesting points throughout about Gawain’s interaction with different surfaces and the overt richness of most of them seems to imply to me that this struggle for moral perfection is a somewhat aimless journey afforded to few. The fact that Woods calls it an “early symptom of bourgeois sensibility” also makes me curious as to how the problem transforms in following works.



38 Responses to “Woods’ “Nature and the Inner Man””

  1.   Michelle Coleman Says:

    This was really interesting. I wrote about Gawain and his divergence from the typical hero that does everything right and “gets the girl” at the end, so your idea that Gawain was doing even more new things is pleasantly surprising. To us, the poem may sound old and blend in with everything else knight-related, but it really does stand out for important reasons. Like you wrote, “this struggle for moral perfection is a somewhat aimless journey afforded to few.” This relates to the article that I read, which talked about how the Gawain poet was trying to show that becoming an ideal knight was nowhere near as easy as previous stories had made it seem. This “moral perfection” is really difficult– more like impossible– to achieve, and the Gawain poet uses his poem (and Gawain’s realistic imperfection and normal-ness) to tell us that. Great post!

  2.   Asheka Lawrence-Reid Says:

    Hi Sumaria! I like how you use your selected article to begin thinking about how literature such as the one we are reading is responsible for the dissemination and maintenance of many normative ideas. It is also interesting to note the struggle between an instinctive way of being and a more rational existence. I can see where the text uses Gawain as an example of instinct, whereas, Bertilak serves as the rational and reasonable being.

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