Gawain comes to the castle of Bertilak, himself a solar character, whose lady poses challenges of honor and self-preservation to him. Gawain defeats almost all of the challenges except the green belt that might keep him alive; an image that echoes of the symbol for eternity and yet is a deception since it is the thing that imperils him in the end. Bertilak and the Green Knight are revealed to be one and the same and the final nick on Gawain's neck is a reminder of his failure. He returns to court a wiser man, someone who sees beyond the pettiness of others, the sage or solar figure. This return is also part of the monomyth and symbolizes resurrection - the new solar year of our own lives reflected in the newborn baby Jesus.
But the question remains whether men can transcend the earthly cycles of the Green Man. Can we overcome the humus of our humanity? the Adamah of our Adam? or are we doomed to push up the daisies?
What Gawain seems to suggest is that our transcendence of death is achieved by transcending our own fears and desire for self-preservation. Being honorable and exercising self-control need to take precedence over that urge to save ourselves; "he who would save his life will lose it." The sun hero, Gawain, is only elevated to a greater status, that of the sun deity, by recognizing his own failing - seeing that he is not a god - and using that knowledge to persist in self-control and honor. Like Phaethon who fails to drive the sun chariot, Gawain ultimately fails to keep faith with Bertilak. I wonder whether, then the poem is saying that Gawain is ultimately a failure in apotheosis; he doesn't become a sun god b/c he cannot keep faith. Or is the poem saying that only by the persistent exercise of honor in the face of failure is he able to return to Camelot as "the boon giver", the wise man - one no longer at the mercy of the eternal cycles, but one with them.
(this entry is for William)