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Creatures, such as dragons or demons have always been present in literature. Often they are seen the ‘monsters’ and ‘evil’ in the story. However, it is seldom seen that a piece of work delves into whether or not these mythical creatures should be considered as actual complex characters with thought processes and motives. Since they are not real, how can a reader just assume that they should be interpreted as no different than an animal encountered in real life? IN Beowulf, these creatures are present and prevalent, and worth being considered as more than just ‘monsters.
The passage focused on has distinct metaphor for Beowulf’s end coincided with the end of the dragon. Both well known, and fearsome creatures. A fair amount of comparison can be made between the two, based on textual evidence from the passage. However, in delving deeper into this idea that Beowulf share similarities with the dragon, it can be observed that he shares similarities with all the monsters he fights in the poem and begs the question, how does one really know who the hero is and who is the monster?
A dragon is a well-known creature of mythology.
Often it is seen in the context of a challenge that the protagonist must vanquish in order to succeed in a quest, or save something they love. The dragon presented in Beowulf appears to be no different. Beowulf must rid his people of the dragon in order to keep them safe from its destruction. However, the characteristics shared between Beowulf and this dragon are not to be ignored.
This dragon only unleashed its wrath upon the village after being awoken from an intruder looking to steal the gold being guarded by the dragon (2287-2290). Much like how Beowulf only unleashes his attack on the dragon after learning that his own home had been destroyed in the carnage (2324-2328). Both Beowulf and the dragon unleash brutal attacks after they feel that their property has been infringed upon. The only difference is the poem clearly states Beowulf’s anger over his home being destroyed, and a reader must interpret that the dragon has similar feelings.
Within the passage the death of the dragon is lamented using terms that had before been used to describe Beowulf. The author focuses on how the dragon will never again “glitter and glide and show himself off” (2832-2833). It should not be ignored that similar terms have been used to describe Beowulf, such as the use of the synecdoche “glittering sword” (2584). As well as how Beowulf constantly has to show off his feats of strength, such as hanging Grendel’s arm in the hall, and returning with his head. Beowulf and the dragon both have senses of pride in their appearances and strengths. When looked at under direct light, it can be hard to really discern between Beowulf’s actions and the dragon’s actions without simply stating the fact that the dragon is not human. There is no clear reason as to why the reader should be interpreting Beowulf as hero for killing his “nightmarish destroyer” and then dying (2825). Simply put the fight between the two should really be viewed as more of a war than a vanquishing since both were only protecting what they viewed as their territory.
The dragon is not the only monster that Beowulf shares similarities with. Grendel and his mother share traits with Beowulf as well. Grendel is described as being “god cursed” (121) while Beowulf is described as being showered upon by gifts from God (1270), both Beowulf and Grendel have tremendous strength and otherworldly abilities, so why is one so different from the other? The obvious argument is that one is ‘cursed’ but without only looking at them through the eyes of a singular religion’s belief, there is a world of possibilities as to how to interpret the good and evil in both of them. It is simply too easy to write off Grendel as pure evil because it is dictated as such.
Grendel’s mother, an often-overlooked character, is also alike Beowulf. She does not even attempt an attack on the kingdom until her son is killed. She is not the only character seething with rage and seeking revenge. Beowulf beheads Grendel’s corpse after killing his mother because he wants a full trophy of the kill as revenge for the people that Grendel and his mother killed. But Grendel’s mother was “grief-racked” as well, so why is her pain not worthy of revenge (1277)? Grendel’s mother and Beowulf were both operating out of the place. Also, Grendel and his mother ate the corpses that they murdered, so it cannot be determined that Grendel’s attacks were all anger and not out of hunger. Beowulf’s attacks are both out of revenge, so were it not for Grendel’s ‘cursedness’ his killings would almost be more justified than Beowulf’s.
Readers should be thinking about how they define the differences between the humans and monsters in the story. There is no real part of this poem that insinuates the monsters did not have as much ability to think and feel as the humans. It raises deeper questions about how the poem defines a hero, someone who just has a lot of strength and kills a lot of things? Then Grendel could be a hero? If it is as someone who is protecting something important to them, then the dragon is a hero. If a monster is just a brutal strength and murderous rage, how is Beowulf not a monster?
The line between good and evil has always been a blurry line and slippery slope. Beowulf exhibits similar feats of strength and fits of rage as the creatures he kills, it is impossible to deem him a hero for slaughtering these ‘monsters’ simply because he is human and the poem never focuses on interpreting the creatures as anything else. Lack of exploration into the mindsets of characters other than protagonist humans, should not dictate how the good and evil is viewed in literature.
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