Monsters in Beowulf Essay

Monsters in Beowulf Essay

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There are three prominent monsters in the Beowulf text, Grendel, his mother, and the dragon. While the dragon proves to be the most fatale of foes for Beowulf, Grendel and his mother do not simply pose physical threats to the Germanic society; their roles in Beowulf are manifold. They challenge the perceptions of heroism, a sense of unrivalled perfection and superiority. Moreover, they allow the reader to reconsider the gender constructs upheld within the text; one cannot help but feel that the threat that these monsters present is directed towards the prevalent flaws in Beowulf’s world. Moreover, what makes these monsters is not their physical appearance; it is what they embody. Both Grendel and his mother have humanlike qualities yet their monstrous appearance arises from what their features and mannerisms represent. The challenge they pose to societal paradigms makes them far more terrifying to our heroes than any scaled flesh or clawing hand. These monsters provide the ‘most authoritative general criticism […] of the structure and conduct of the poem’. Their presence provides contrast and criticism of the brave society (Heaney 103).
Grendel’s emergence is sudden and immediately the reader is presented with the image of a ‘fiend out of hell’ who has been provoked by the construction of Heorot. Indeed, the poet notes that the monster had long ‘nursed a hard grievance’, forced to listen to the clatter and din emitting from the mead hall. Heorot itself is given a sense of foreboding, in spite of being ‘meant to be a wonder of the world forever’, the poet admits that it was simply ‘awaiting a barbarous burning’ (Heaney 69, 82). Is the poet subtly suggesting that the construction of Heorot is not a symbol of marvel but rather a re...


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...dants of Cain. Therefore, what they represent is the amalgamation of monster and human, reflecting the monstrous characteristics within society. It is Grendel who is provoked, it is his mother who is wronged, and yet Beowulf is the one who sees it as his right to defend against the ‘swamp hag’ and her son. The poet is most subtly teasing out the flaws of this society, commenting on the social structure and gender confinements that are upheld. In fighting the monsters, Beowulf displays the immoral elements of his world and of humanity. The role of the creatures within the text is to show how the fighters of monsters themselves can become monsters in their own right. The poet is ultimately demonstrating that humans and heroes are not free from flaws just because they are not monsters. Indeed, this presumptive manner often brings out the monstrous method of our heroes.

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