Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Symbolism: The Green Girdle
The green girdle, or belt, that Lady Bertilak gives to Gawain as a "lover’s token" is another symbol whose meaning is made very clear to the reader. When Lady Bertilak presses Gawain to accept it, she presents it as something to remember her by, but happens to mention that it will make the wearer invincible. For Gawain, then, the green girdle represents his survival. Since Gawain fails to exchange the girdle with Bertilak as the terms of the men’s agreement dictate, it also symbolizes to the reader Gawain’s desperate desire to survive at the expense of his code of honor. Only after Gawain "fails" the Green Knight’s test does this meaning become clear to him.
Gawain promises himself that he will wear the girdle forever as a symbol of his failure, but also as a reminder of how "a man may hide his misdeed, but never erase it" (2511). After all the men in Arthur’s court decide to wear a similar belt, however, the girdle takes on a new meaning – it becomes a symbol of honor. More than any in the poem, then, this girdle is a multi-dimensional object whose meaning depends upon the interpreter and the moment of interpretation.