Date of Award

5-2015

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Legacy Department

English

Advisor

Dr. Andrew Lemons

Committee Member

Dr. Elizabeth Rivlin

Committee Member

Dr. Cameron Bushnell

Abstract

In his essay 'Reflections on Exile,' Edward Said writes that the experience of the exile transcends definitions that seek to confine it to the traditionally defined post-colonial period, noting that 'in other ages, exiles have similar cross-cultural and transnational visions, suffered the same frustrations and miseries, [and] performed the same elucidating and critical tasks.' This principle, decisive in the articulation of post-colonial theory, nonetheless finds numerous points of resonance in pre-colonial periods. Many texts completed centuries before Said or even colonialism existed seem to demand to be read within postcolonial contexts. The state of exile that Said describes is one that can be found in texts across cultures and historical periods, and is particularly relevant to the anonymous Middle English poem known as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. An Arthurian text that largely dispenses with Arthur, Sir Gawain instead focuses on the journey of an exile. Expelled from his home, Gawain spends much of the text as a man without a country. The ambiguous state between realms and the entirety of Sir Gawain can be better understood in the context of Postcolonial theory, specifically the relationship of the subject and space developed in Homi Bhabha's concept of the 'Third Space' put forth in The Location of Culture and Edward Said's discussion of exile. The interplay and power struggle between cultures that is discussed in these theories is directly applicable to the case of Gawain and his role in the poem. Through these lenses, we immediately see the confrontation between The Green Knight and Arthur as one not only of historic and religious importance, but also political and psychological. Gawain, as an exile from Arthur's court and therefore belonging solely to a third space characterized by radical ambiguity, acts as a mediator between two worlds and serves to more clearly define them both. Applying postcolonial theory in the study of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight enables the understanding of the medieval text as an interaction of language, time and space that unfolds simultaneously on multiple poetic strata.

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