Symbolism In 'Villains In Beowulf'

1278 Words6 Pages
Rochelle Jarmer
Dr. Susan McLean
British Literature
Beowulf Essay
In Beowulf, the title hero is pitted against three villains: Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and the dragon. Each of these monsters represents distinct threats. This paper will begin by examining and analyzing these distinct threats, and their attached symbolism. It will then proceed to explore possible levels of sympathy applied to the monstrous villains, as well as possible author motivations and critical explanations for their structured place in the epic.
Grendel represents many things, but primarily Grendel represents fear itself—the unknown. The poem is scarce in any physical description of Grendel, and we know that Grendel is a traditional boogeyman—his
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At this juncture in the epic, Beowulf’s personality is defined by his confidence and ability, attested to in his boast against Unferth: “if you were truly as keen or courageous as you claim to be Grendel would never have got away with such unchecked atrocity” (ll. 590-93) and exemplified by Beowulf’s waking vigilance leading up to the battle, in contrast with the sleeping warriors (ll. 703-09), while finally proved at his convincing victory (ll. 800-835) using nothing but his own strength. The level of sympathy the monsters in Beowulf deserve is a controversial and contested topic. In the first place, why are Beowulf’s foes monsters, and not humans? Two possible answers can be given. One is simply that it is in the folk tradition to use monsters because they exemplify evil and fear. Additionally, Grendel being a descendant of Cain makes the monster, according to the text, utterly unsympathetic and worthy of revilement, because his existence is the result of a fratricidal dynasty, quite contrary to the warrior kinship valued by the Saxon-Germanic…show more content…
While the position of this paper is not that Beowulf is an immaculate hero unworthy of reproach, a complete inversion which places the focal point of the epic on the humanity of the monsters is an unwarranted and ethnocentric imposition of modern values onto literature that proceeded from a time and place where those values had no
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