His greatest foe ultimately turns out to be not the Green Knight, but himself, as the major conflict is within: his own fear of death. He does triumph over that fear insofar as he seeks out the Green Knight, honoring his end of the bargain. However, in taking the girdle, he fails. But perhaps it is the truest hero who learns from his mistakes, for in the end, Sir Gawain realizes and understands where he has failed. He vows to wear the green girdle as a symbol of his disgrace.
Sir Gawain is originally faced with the challenge of the Green Knight. The Green Knight appears in King Arthur's court and causes a disturbance, issuing an open invitation to all in the court "to strike one stroke for another" ( line 287) with his strong, sturdy, and finely-crafted axe as the prize. This test appears simple enough, and it puts Gawain into a straightforward, short-term conflict with the Green Knight. Yet the Green Knight is not the main enemy whom the hero must overcome in this story. Traditionally, a hero is portrayed as a noble, gallant, and even infallible human being. That heroic character is frequently placed on a pedestal. From old folk tales to modern pop-culture, a hero is often seen as being generally respected and admired for his heroism. Throughout the course of his quest, Gawain must face temptation and the less-than-heroic qualities within himself-and he does not necessarily overcome them all.
SparkNotes: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: Context
In the novel Beowulf the epic hero Beowulf shows characteristics of courage, physical strength, loyalty, self-confidence, and wisdom, much like heroes today.