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Sympathy in Beowulf Essay

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While the classic battle between good and evil forces is a major theme of the medieval epic Beowulf, one may question whether these good and evil forces are as black and white as they appear. Scholars such as Herbert G. Wright claim that “the dragon, like the giant Grendel, is an enemy of mankind, and the audience of Beowulf can have entertained no sympathy for either the one or the other” (Wright, 4). However, other scholars such as Andy Orchard disagree with this claim, and believe that there is “something deeply human about the ‘monsters’” (Orchard, 29). While Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and the dragon are indeed portrayed as evil and violent foes, there are parts within Beowulf that can also lead a reader to believe that the “monsters” may not be so monstrous after all. In fact, the author of Beowulf represents the “monsters” within the poem with a degree of moral ambivalence. This ambivalence ultimately evokes traces of sympathy in the reader for the plight of these “monster” figures, and blurs the fine line between good and evil within the poem.
The first opponent Beowulf must face in the land of the Danes is Grendel, textually described as “a fiend out of hell … [a] grim demon / haunting the marches, / marauding round the heath / and the desolate fens” (Beowulf, line 100 – 104). The author also provides us with a moral description, explaining how Grendel is “merciless … malignant by nature, he never showed remorse” (line 135-137). As we can see here, the author’s physical and moral portrayal of Grendel is rather unforgiving. We also resent Grendel further once we learn that he has wreaked havoc upon the Heorot hall for twelve years, “inflicting constant cruelties on the people / atrocious hurt” (line 165).
One may wonder ...


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...ts treasure, almost an obsession,” then can one really blame am animal acting through instinct and purpose? While destructive, it was indeed the greed and ignorance of man that brought the wrath of the dragon upon Geatland. “The intruder who broached the dragon’s treasure / and moved him to wrath had never meant to” (line 2215). “each antagonist struck terror in the other” (line 2565).
While the monsters of the poem are the antagonists of the poem, the author still manages to make the reader feel traces of sympathy for them. Grendel’s human depiction, exile and misery tugs at the heart of readers and indeed shows a genuine side to the figure, while Grendel’s mother and the dragon are sympathetic mainly because they were provoked into being attacked over things they both had a deep affection for. Their actions make us question whether they are as evil as they seem.


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