Grendel Vs. Beowulf Essay, Research Paper
Although Grendel and Beowulf are used in Beowulf as symbolic opposition who represent good and evil, in reality, they contain similar ties leading the reader to question the story s black and white portrayal of good and evil. It s not a matter of being good or evil, in reality, it comes down to how you are viewed by ignorant society. Society loves to stereotype and over exaggerate. Both Grendel and Beowulf are victims of ancestry and society, which dictate the way they are supposed to act. They fall into the abyss of do s and don ts which their surroundings impose, and unconsciously they are bound to follow them.
Many times, as the author portrays something as evil, the reader assumes it to be true without seeking justification between the lines. As Grendel is introduced in the poem, the grim spirit was called Grendel, a famous march-stepper who held the moors, the fen and the fastness, (Beowulf 2) right away he is portrayed as an outcast. When people think outcast, they right away assume there is something wrong with the being, because he s not like they are, he s different. However, less emphasis is put on the quote which explains why the creature is as it is, The hapless creature sojourned for a space in the sea-monsters home after the Creator had condemned him. The eternal Lord avenged the murder on the race of Cain, because he slew Abel. (Beowulf 3) This clearly explains, the creature itself had nothing to do with the way it was raised, nor the purpose which it has on Earth. Grendel is cursed through his line of ancestors. In the Germanic tribal society of Grendel, one s ancestry played a key role in identifying the person s position in life.
Despite the author s attempt to portray Grendel as purely evil, his human, sensitive side seeps through the lines. Even in an act, considered as pure hatred, a streak of pain, or motive is evident. He grew full of anger at the sight of human ignorance:
He went then when night fell to visit the high house, to see how the Ring-Danes had disposed themselves in it after the beer-banquet. Then he found therein the band of chieftains slumbering after the feast; they knew not sorrow, the misery of man, aught of misfortune.(Beowulf 3)
To humans this was an act of pure evil, yet to Grendel, it was an act of jealousy and anger caused by the fact that he had to go through so much suffering, while the people knew of no worry, and drank mead all day. Another example of Grendel s sensitive side, is when he fights with Beowulf, suddenly Fear grew in his mind and heart, (Beowulf 14) this creature has a mind and heart with the capability of feeling emotions. In a way, Grendel had more than plain human emotions, in his speech, Wiglaf said, …Death is better for all earls than a shameful life, (Beowulf 52) yet Grendel managed to prove that wrong. He was determined to live, despite shame, and make a name for himself, which unfortunately, was negative. He was capable of playing the role he was designed to play, yet his true self never vanished.
Beowulf, the role model, symbol of all good, contains flaws, yet they don t seem to get in his way of being a hero. It seems that he acquires his reputation of a righteous fighter in his youth, and no other aspect of his personality matters. Despite warnings from Hrothgar, praise seems to get to him with old age. Hrothgar warned him of excessive pride, Beowulf goes and fights the dragon being sure of his victory. …wish to seek the fight, to achieve the heroic deed, (Beowulf 45) it s all about him staying an immortal hero. Hrothgar tells him that old age and weakness will put him down, yet Beowulf goes ahead to fight the dragon, despite his age and sacrifices his life. This shows how he is arrogant to the point of not listening to the wisdom of elders. One may get the impression that Beowulf thinks it s either his way or no way at all.
It seems as if excessive pride is a strong weakness of Beowulf. He boasts while talking to his own men, throwing statements such as: I am brave in mind, (Beowulf 45) or The sword was not a slayer, but my battle grip crushed the surges of his heart and body. (Beowulf 45) What example should his men have about modesty? What would happen to a society if every man boasts about a good, brave deed? This personality flaw may be harder to distinguish because its not a heroic flaw. Beowulf s heroism seems to be the focus of the poem, and everything else seems to be either insignificant, or secondary. Beowulf s rich ancestry prepares the way for his praise. His greatness is expected, there is no room for defeat. Society is blinded by Beowulf s victories.
Grendel and Beowulf, supposedly a firm portrayal of good vs. evil, have more to them than expected. Both of these characters can be looked at from a different perspective. When you deviate from the perspective the author wants you to follow, you realize there is no such thing as purely unmotivated good or evil. When you infiltrate through the character, and discover various aspects, you realize all that s left behind from when you started, is stereotype and closed minded way of thought.