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Greed In Beowulf Essay

As social activist Eartha Kitt once said, “Greed is so destructive. It destroys everything. ” In Beowulf, by an anonymous writer and The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkien, greed plays an omnipresent role, as it manifests itself into the societies of the texts, resulting in acts of war. Each text utilizes similar methods in their depiction of greed, as it is shown as a cause for the seemingly endless acts of wartime malice. Additionally, both texts seem to emphasize a certain notion that with the possession of wealth, one will have power, and the only way one can attain that wealth is through taking

This notion proves to have a good, yet adverse effect on the characters, as it shows strength and ambition in their drives to succeed, but also reveals inflated egos and ever-growing hungers for power. Throughout the course of their each respected text, the writer of Beowulf, and writer J. R. R. Tolkien allude to the brutal clutches of war and the endless loop it drags societies into. The Hobbit and Beowulf are directly related in many ways, that of which exemplify greed.

The inspirations for J. R. R. Tolkien’s texts largely came from the writings of the Anglo-Saxon time (Abee). One particular detail seen in both exts, is the use of a dragon to exemplify greed. In Beowulf, the dragon, due his high levels of greed, terrorizes the Geats when a thief steals a cup from his treasure. The dragon in The Hobbit carries out near identical series of events, as it reflects that of it from one who already holds it. Beowulf. In both writings, each dragon is slain in a battle of different proportions, but nonetheless, killed.

Given that dragon’s are purely fictional beings, perhaps they solely represent the evil, fed by the avarice, in all humans. The Hobbit, more so than Beowulf, suggests that with the death of the ragon, comes some relief from this seemingly endless cycle of war, as well as the human vice of greed. For instance, when in the face of death, Thorin, who had previously been only driven by greed stated, “… If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world” (Tolkien 290), showing materialism is not where happiness is stored.

In addition, both texts promote characters using magical swords, specially made so that they find success in battle. For example, in Beowulf, while in battle with Grendel’s mother, Beowulf discovers a magical sword, which he uses to slay the beast. Similarly, Bilbo possessed a sword of magical powers as well, his being named, Sting (Abee). Both Beowulf and Bilbo passed their swords down to other individuals, signifying the importance and responsibility that comes with being a warrior in battle.

In the Anglo-Saxon culture, finding success in war was not only a mark of achievement, but also a way of life for warriors of the time (Hill). Characters such as Unferth act as a mouthpiece for John Gardner, the writer of Grendel, a supporting text of Beowulf, as he represents the drive for power in all warriors of the time. For example, during the Anglo-Saxon period, if one was to retreat from battle as a coward, he would be faced with an array of retribution, whereas if he were stay in battle and found unparalleled success, he could potentially reach a position of higher power (Bond et al. ).

Unferth was well aware of this standard of the time, as it is shown in the scene where he refuses to retreat from Grendel’s home, even when in the face of death. When speaking to Grendel he states, “The hero sees values beyond what’s possible. That’s the nature of a hero. It kills him, of course, ultimately. But it makes the whole struggle of humanity worthwhile” (Gardner 89), almost convincing himself that he has not failed in his pursuit to kill the beast. Had his encounter with Grendel ended in his desired fashion, Unferth would have died a “hero”, despite not receiving any power or monetary reward.

Furthermore, Beowulf, despite being as magnificent as he was, suffered from greed as well, as he displayed an intense desire for fame. This weakness first became present when he first encountered Unferth, challenging his validity as primary protector of the mead hall. Being subject o Beowulf’s braggadocious ways, Unferth declares him to be a “boastful fool” (Heaney 507), predicting that he will one day bite his words. It is not until the latter part of the text that Beowulf must do so, as the dragon kills him while in combat.

Certainly, Beowulf’s death serves as a reminder of the manipulative effects greed can have on one’s ego. There are a few fundamental reasons behind the hellacious acts of war, two of which being, the acquirement of land and the acquirement of wealth. In The Hobbit, the dwarves exemplify their greed for the dragon’s treasure, as they wish to steal it for their own selfish enefit, not to escape tyranny. The dragon however is no better, if not worse, as it is his own greed that drives people to hate him.

The use of these two sets of characters allows Tolkien to display the overbearing effects desire for wealth can have on an individual, as it is greed that drives people to carry out acts of war (Paxon). Furthermore, in Beowulf, just before the conclusion of the epic, the Swedes invade the Geats, as it is implied that the Geats are easily overcome. This final piece of the text serves to show how the cycle of war continues without end, for up until he point of Beowulf’s death, the Geats were essentially in a defensive position, with the Swedes eager to pounce.

Certainly, with the acquirement of this newfound land, the Swedes would be placed in the defensive stance the Geats were previously in. Surely, war has essentially taught those of the time, that it is best just to acquire a fortune and land and defend it; the kingdom or community that has the biggest army or the noblest warriors will attain the most of each, and therefore the most power. It is irrefutable that J. R. R. Tolkien’s war experiences heavily influenced his writings. The Hobbit was written was round the time World War II occurred, which is by some standards, the most gruesome war in history.

Tolkien describes his term in war as an awful, disturbing experience, where he caught trench fever and experienced the grief of losing all but one of his closest friends. In particular, the battle of Sommes was what likely influenced the Battle of Middle Earth, as seen in the Hobbit. Tolkien describes the disturbing battle, “By autumn 1916 the battlefield at the Somme was covered with corpses. When it flooded there were bodies floating in shell holes. ” (Manger). These horrific depictions would later surface in is writing of the battle of middle earth, gruesome scenes of blood and malice.

Tolkien included these scenes into his text not only for entertainment purposes, but where readers picture also so as a reminder of the unimaginable hell that is brought to life in war. Moreover, allusions to World War 2 are also referenced in his Lord of The Rings Trilogy, as well as other works. (Larimore). After reading and reviewing both of these texts, it has become clear that greed has a critical role in the societies of each one, as it has provoked and will continue to provoke humans to carry out acts of war.

But not only will these acts be carried out, but they will also be repeated, as observed in the texts and the real world alone. Unfortunately, unlike the slaying of a mythical beast, the stain of avarice that has been left on society cannot be simply washed away, and therefore, the acts of war will continue to come full circle with the progression of time. To conclude, both texts strongly emphasize the battle between humans and their materialistic greed, but more so than Beowulf, The Hobbit, exemplifies that it is indeed possible to attain prosperity without the bloodshed of war.

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