The Hero Archetype: Beowulf and Sir Gawain Essay

The Hero Archetype: Beowulf and Sir Gawain Essay

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What is a hero? Is it someone who pulls a drowning child out of a lake or is it someone such as Nelson Mandela who inspires others to be better? I believe it is both. Although the two differ in what makes them a hero, they are still a hero. That being said, when comparing the British characters Beowulf and Sir Gawain, I found that both fit the hero archetype. Beowulf and Sir Gawain will be compared on the hero archetype characteristics of being better than the ordinary man, proving oneself many times, and having a tragic flaw.
Of the many characteristics of a hero, being better than the ordinary man is the trait most easily found when studying a character. Beowulf exhibits almost god-like strength throughout his quest. For example, “He twisted in pain, / And the bleeding sinews deep in his shoulder/ Snapped, muscle and bone split and broke.” (Beowulf 815-818). His strength is once again demonstrated in his fight with Grendel’s mother. After he realizes hand-to-hand combat is futile, Beowulf swings a sword “so massive that no ordinary man could lift/ It’s carved and decorated length.” (Beowulf 1560-1561). Yet another example of Beowulf’s strength is his presentation of Grendel’s head to the Danes. After slicing off Grendel’s head in one blow, Beowulf orders his men to carry the head back to Herot. However, the head of the monster was “too heavy for fewer than four of them to handle” (Beowulf 1636-1637). After arriving in Herot, Beowulf “carried that terrible trophy by the hair,/ Brought it straight to where the Danes sat” (Beowulf 1647-1648). The second trait that demonstrates that Beowulf is better than the ordinary man is his incredible honor. When preparing for his fight with Grendel, Beowulf decides not to use ...


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...e the quarrels, the hatreds, the feuds,/ That will bring us battles, force us into war/ With the Swedes, as soon as they’ve learned how our lord/ Is dead” (Beowulf 2999-3002). That quote shows that Beowulf lived in a war-torn country and therefore his strength and ability to protect his people made him a revered hero. Sir Gawain, on the other hand, lived in a time when inner qualities were valued. The valuing of inner qualities along with Sir Gawain’s exceptional traits made him a hero. That being said, although Beowulf and Sir Gawain differ in some aspects, they both fit the hero archetype of being better than the ordinary man, proving oneself many times, and having a tragic flaw.



Works Cited

Beowulf. Trans. Burton Raffel. New York Signet Classics, 2008. Print
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Trans. Burton Raffel. New York Signet Classics, 2009. Print

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