The poem Beowulf, believed to be written between 650 and 800 by a group of monks, contains several complex characters that have sparked discussions throughout the years. Scholars still continue to ponder over the unanswered questions about characters, such as whether Grendel is monster or human, whether Grendel is evil or not, and what the monsters in Beowulf signify. Other important, though less accepted questions include whether Beowulf is really a hero, or is in actuality a monster, and what allows the characters to be classified as either evil, or not evil.
Because both sides of these arguments can be sufficiently supported with textual evidence, it is the reader’s responsibility to defend an appropriate answer. There are no possible arguments critics could make to prove the dragon in Beowulf is not a monster that represents the evil in money. Also, it is generally accepted that Grendel is a monster that represents the evil of the Danes’ society, for few critics argue this fact. However, because it is generally accepted that Beowulf is a hero, no critics argue that the he is actually a monster that represents the evil in pride.
The most undisputed monster of the poem is the “slick- skinned” dragon “with streamers of fire” (Beowulf 155) that appears at the end of the poem, and eventually kills Beowulf. There is no possible argument one could make that the dragon is not a monster. However, the dragon is still important to the poem, and it still presents an important form of evil. The dragon is the representation of the evil of money in the story, or in other words the greed gold causes.
The dragon ” guarded a hoard” (Beowulf 151), and Beowulf died in an effort to kill the dragon and take the gold he so jealously guarded. Because of Beowulf’s and the dragon’s need for the money, they put their lives on the line, and ultimately die for the money. Which is ironic, for when they are both dying the money is brought out, and it is corroded and worthless, which symbolizes the worthlessness of all money. This theme is previously presented by the man who buries the treasure in the first place, realizing that the money is no good without people to use it.
This is possibly foreshadowing the fact that now that Beowulf is dead his people will die as a result of the invasions they face. This proves that the money was not worth fighting and dying for, because money is worthless when no one is alive to use it. As has been presented, the dragon reveals the evil in money, and the tragedies it can cause. There is enough textual evidence provided in the poem of Beowulf for the reader to assume that Grendel is a monster, which few critics argue.
As a means of backing this up, the reader can point out direct statements in the poem, for example, several times Grendel is called ” a fiend out of hell,” who is trying to ” work his evil in the world” (Beowulf 9), and a ” God- cursed brute” (Beowulf 49). One can also utilize the direct descriptions of Grendel, for he is described as being strong enough to ” grab thirty men from their resting places and rush to his lair” (Beowulf 11), which is hardly humanlike.
Along with these direct statements that Grendel is a monster, there are several facts that are not directly stated, however, they are essential to Grendel’s classification. There are several indirect statements in the poem that help to classify Grendel as a monster. For example, there is much depravation in Grendel’s life that separates him from the other human beings of that time period. Such as the fact that Grendel is a loner, banished from society, which shows that Grendel has no human communications, which is doubtlessly not a humanlike characteristic.
Grendel also has no father, but instead has only a mother, which is bizarre because many of the other characters introduce themselves as “son of ____”, and indeed, despite the fact that Beowulf’s father is dead, he is often referred to as, ” Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow” (Beowulf 137). Also, Grendel’s murder practices can hardly be considered humanlike as “he struck suddenly and started in; he grabbed and mauled a man on his bench, bit into his bone- lappings, bolted down his blood and gorged on him in lumps, leaving his body utterly lifeless, eaten up hand and foot (Beowulf 51).
It is not humanly possible for one man, no matter how big he is, to grab another man and devour him as if he were but the size of a rat. Additionally, Grendel’s manner of killing men, being that he walks up to men while they are sleeping, and eats them, involves no weapons, which is uncharacteristic of the men of this time. For other men had respect for their weapons, indeed Beowulf even goes as far as to name his sword.
All of Grendel’s abnormal characteristics lead the readers to believe that Grendel can not possible be human, because of his differences in appearance, his etiquette of mind, and living habits, therefore the only way to classify him is a monster. With the establishment of Grendel being a monster, one must realize that he is also representative of a type of evil, which is the evil in the Danes’ society. This evil is the Danes’ demand for perfection and codes of heroism in all their men, and if someone does not meet up to their standards they simply disregard them of being worthy of their society.
For Grendel was indeed a monster in size and appearance, but there is no evidence of evil performed by Grendel that would lead to his banishment, besides his misfortune of being born a descendant of Cain. It seems as if this evil of the Danes’ society was transferred into characters, and Grendel, and his mother, emerged from this. For after Grendel is killed by Beowulf, the atmosphere is still that of evil, despite the fact that Grendel is dead, and this evil is revealed when Grendel’s mother attacks the castle as a means of revenge for her son’s murder.
And only when Grendel’s mother is killed does this evil atmosphere leave, this is represented by the fact that immediately after Grendel’s mother died “A light appeared and the place brightened” (Beowulf 109). This appearing light is representative of the evil leaving the society, perhaps as the Danes realize, and eliminate the evil themselves. Although the evidence of Grendel being a monster is directly stated throughout the text, one must use this evidence from Grendel to prove that Beowulf is a monster.
There is sufficient textual evidence for the reader to assume that the “hero” Beowulf is a monster, a point that no critics argue. Is Beowulf, in reality, a hero who is the savoir of the epic and worthy of all the praise he receives? Or is Beowulf really as much of a monster as Grendel, and therefore a representation of pure evil? Because there is textual evidence to support both arguments, it is up to the reader to develop an answer. Based on how deep the reader looks into the character of Beowulf the obvious answer is that Beowulf is as much of a monster as Grendel is.
The reader gets the idea that Beowulf is a hero who comes to Hrothgar’s aid on his own accord; however, the poem plainly states that Beowulf’s father, who died, owed Hrothgar a favor. For in Hrothgar’s story he states “Finally I healed the feud by paying: I shipped a treasure- trove to the Wulfings and Ecgtheow acknowledged me with oaths of allegiance” (Beowulf 33) which implies that Beowulf is not fighting Grendel to help the people, but instead to pay back a favor, and this diminishes Beowulf’s hero image.
This fact proves that Beowulf is not a hero; however, other elements, though not as obvious as Grendel’s, determine that Beowulf is in fact a monster as well. There are several examples of elements that help to classify Beowulf as a monster. For example, Grendel is considered a monster because of his inhuman like strength, however, Beowulf’s strength matches, if not exceeds Grendel’s strength, therefore, its only right that Beowulf is a monster as well.
Also, Grendel hungers for humans, and similar to this, before a battle Beowulf is ” impatient to be away” (Beowulf 103). Surely because Beowulf hungers for a battle, and fights simply for the joy of winning, he is a monster as well. Additionally, Beowulf spends hours in a “fight under water” (Beowulf 103) without coming up for air, which proves that Beowulf is not a human, but a monster. Along with Beowulf being classified a monster; he is also a representation of evil in the poem.
Later on the poem, Beowulf is presented as being a great king over the Geat Land; however, upon closely analyzing his rein, one will realize he is not a great king. Beowulf is too proud and arrogant for his own good, and this pride is the true monster in him. It is Beowulf’s great pride that makes him a hero, however, for a large cost, his life. It is Beowulf’s pride that causes him to the fight with the dragon without a sufficient army, despite the fact that he is old and feeble, and already has a premonition of his death at the hands of the dragon.
Beowulf cannot possibly be considered a great leader because his stupidity with the battle with the dragon causes not only his death, but a threat to his people, because now they face the danger of invasion with Beowulf gone. Beowulf is a power hungry monster because he longs for a battle to prove himself, similar to how Grendel longs for human beings, and also Beowulf has many inhuman like characteristics, such as his ability to spend hours under water, and his Godlike strength.
As a monster Beowulf presents the evil in pride, and with the assistance of a dragon, he also presents the evil in money. As has been illustrated the characters of Beowulf, Grendel and the dragon can be classified as monsters based on textual evidence. These three monsters all present a type of evil in the poem. For example, Beowulf presents the evil in pride, Grendel presents the evil in the Danes’ society, and the dragon presents the evil in money.
These forms of evil are central to the poem, and are what makes the poem the classic it is. There are no possible arguments critics could make to prove the dragon in Beowulf is not a monster that represents the evil in money. Also, it is generally accepted that Grendel is a monster that represents the evil of the Danes’ society, for few critics argue this fact. However, because it is generally accepted that Beowulf is a hero, no critics argue that the he is actually a monster that represents the evil in pride.