Examing the Conclusion of Beowulf
Endings in books are the culmination of many important events. Sometimes they are joyous and pleasant, where the conflict of the novel is resolved and everyone lives happily ever after. And other times, endings can be sad, lamentable, and downright evil. Beowulf
's ending shows a sharp contrast between both types of endings. His character, along with the tragic events
in the book, allowed for this ambiguous ending. But, in my opinion and when thought about closely, Beowulf, ends in an extremely terrible fashion.
Beowulf, Ecgtheow's son, is strong in mind and body. He is born a true hero.. He backs up his extraordinary feats with a powerful sense of social responsibility and morality. He is also engaging and humane. These good qualities often blind readers to his other traits. He, in my opinion, is a selfish, power hungry, and attention grabbing fool. He never asks for help even when he needs it, he prefers recognition rather than doing the right thing, and he puts others at danger to prove himself worthy. As a young man, he is a bit wild and reckless, who swims for seven days in the open sea
to satisfy a foolish wager. Beowulf later admits that it was his false pride that made him accept the bet. When Hrothgar asks Beowulf to fight Grendel, he does not hesitate. His only request is that if he is killed, his armor should be returned to Hygelac, for he is loyal to the King of Geatland. Once Grendel has been wounded and chased away, Beowulf agrees to fight Grendel's mother, who wants vengeance for her son's death. When he succeeds in killing her, he severs her head and the head of the dead Grendel to show as a symbol of his success and bravery. At a young age, Beowulf was strong. He was physically and mentally able to fight Grendel and Grendel's mother. He triumphed over them and won great fame. But this all went straight to his head. 50 years later, as an old and weak man, he puts himself at risk once again to fight the dragon. His mental and physical stamina are nowhere near his old self, but being stubborn, he fights the dragon anyway. He wants glory for himself alone, and even though he knew that he was most likely going to die, he continued to fight the dragon as long as he knew he had a slight chance of winning. Beowulf requested to have a great pyre built with the treasure sitting atop a cliff, so when sailors came by, they would see Beowulf's grave. I don't think he could be more obvious in his longing for fame and recognition.
Another reason why Beowulf ends on a bad note, is the fact that he has left his city alone, leaving a chance for invasion and attack. In the final episode, the encounter with the dragon, the poet reflects further on how the responsibilities of a king, who must act for the good of the people and not just for his own glory, differ from those of the heroic warrior. Beowulf's moral status becomes somewhat confusing at the poem's end. Though he is deservedly celebrated as a great hero and leader, his last courageous fight is also somewhat rash. The poem suggests that, by sacrificing himself, Beowulf unnecessarily leaves his people without a king, exposing them to danger from other tribes. Putting aside all of his character flaws, Beowulf was a strong and wise leader. His people will miss that leadership and rivalry for the throne will probably cause many problems in the future. "A Geat woman too sang out in grief...her nation invaded, enemies on the rampage, bodies in piles, slavery and abasement. Heaven swallowed the smoke." (211) Beowulf made the mistake of getting himself killed before a sufficient king was ever chosen to reign afterwards. This lack of judgement reveals Beowulf's selfishness once again. Just as the story concludes, the last part shows his real character. "They said that of all the kings upon the earth he was the man most gracious and fair-minded, kindest to his people and keenest to win fame." (213)