Beowulf Case Study
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It is true that Beowulf is the story of a dual ordeal: an external battle with vicious opponents and an internal battle with human tendencies of pride, greed, cowardice, betrayal, and self-concern. The internal and external battles that Beowulf faces and overcomes make him the “epic hero” he yearns to be. To start, in the Anglo-Saxon community, warriors are considered to be the strongest, bravest, and most respected of all men. In this poem, Beowulf is the “epic hero”, meaning he must go on a journey to fight evil, while grappling with the struggle between good and evil and expressing the cultural traditions of the time. In order to prove himself a hero, Beowulf determines that he is going to fight and defeat Grendel, who has been terrorizing the town and putting the community’s life at danger.
During Beowulf’s mission, his pride proves to be his largest internal battle and winds up standing in his way of protecting himself and the people around him. Even when it seems that Beowulf needs help during the battle, he is too conceited and arrogant to admit that he needs assistance. Not only does Beowulf decide to fight Grendel because of his own self confidence, but he also feels that “fate will unwind as it must and with that decided no swords would be used.” (Raffel pg 48) Beowulf decides that if fate is destined, he can defeat Grendel by only using his bare hands. Another internal struggle awakens Beowulf when he exclaims, “Wait for me close by my friends.” (Raffel pg 52) Once his men see that Beowulf is losing, they flee the area and prove to be cowards when faced with conflict. At this moment, Beowulf experiences his first glimpse of betrayal and starts to doubt himself.
Beowulf’s integrity is tested to its limit once his shield is melted and his trusty sword has snapped. Although Beowulf feels hopeless at this point, exemplifying Pagan values, he manages to overcome this conflict by obtaining a giant sword and decapitating the monster. Greed comes into play once Beowulf meets face to face with the dragon. The dragon represents Beowulf’s greed because he protects the treasure of a long lost race. Beowulf‘s self-centeredness is demonstrated again when his main concern is with stealing the treasure for his own gain. However, because his fate proves to be inevitable, Beowulf falls in battle after being struck by the dragon.
Not only does Beowulf experience internal battles, but this epic hero also faces numerous external battles. These include Beowulf’s battles against Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and also the dragon. In order to re pay his father’s debt to Hrothgar, Beowulf agrees to fight and destroy the evil, murderous monster. Beowulf eventually is able to fulfill this promise as the poem reads, “Sinews split and the bone lapping burst. Beowulf was granted the glory of winning.” (Raffel pg 56) Once confronting Grendel himself, Beowulf next faces the wrath of Grendel’s mother, who seeks revenge on Herot. Many of Beowulf’s external conflicts are explained in this poem in order to glorify the idea of the “epic hero.”
An example of this technique is when Beowulf must swim under the bottom of a lake “infested with all kinds of reptiles,” (Raffel pg 54) armed with chain mail and his famous sword, Hrunting. After a half a day, Grendel’s mother catches Beowulf and they engages in combat. “Then he heaved his war-sword and swung his arm; the decorated blade came down ringing and singing on her head.” (Raffel pg 58) Although Beowulf defeats the dragon and retrieves the treasure, proving him worthy of the title of an epic hero, the dragons venomous bite winds up killing Beowulf. Beowulf leaves the earth as a hero, overcoming his original internal conflict, and his legacy is carried on through Wiglaf, whose name ironically means “war survivor.”
Overall, the poem Beowulf encompasses internal battles between both Beowulf and the Geats, including pride, greed, cowardice, betrayal, and self-concern. External conflicts are also especially significant to the plot of the novel, especially during the three battles between Beowulf, representing the good, and the monsters and dragon, symbolizing the evil. In the end, good overcomes evil, truly making Beowulf an “epic.”