Essay on Sensory Details in Beowulf

Essay on Sensory Details in Beowulf

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Throughout literature there are constant themes that require the reader to recognize certain events as more than what they literally are presented as. Thomas C. Foster explains the symbolism of a meal in his novel How to Read Literature Like a Professor by stating, “Sometimes a meal is just a meal…More often than not, though, it’s not”. His belief is exemplified in the epic poem Beowulf [B], translated by Seamus Heaney, through symbolism the poem expresses a sense of camaraderie and community that comes with sharing a meal.
The epic poem Beowulf is laden with sensory details about each feast. The significance of the feast is accentuated by the occasion of the feast. According to Thomas C. Foster, “whenever people eat or drink together, it’s communion…the coming together of the faithful to share sustenance,” (8). The faithful are the Danish people against Grendel, and the meal is a shared understanding, like the food, the desire to vanquish this monster that is terrorizing them. The act of sharing a meal emphasizes their connection and joint opposition to Grendel. Upon Beowulf’s arrival the king of the Danes, Hroth-gar, decides to throw a feast in his honor. The feast is depicted as welcoming and amiable. The Danes hospitality is illustrated by how, “a bench was cleared in the banquet hall so the Geats could have room to be together and the party sat, proud in their bearing, strong and stalwart,” (B 15). It is important to acknowledge how the Danes made room, for the Geats, which again emphasizes their shared motives and encourages the feeling of camaraderie between the two groups of people. The ideas of shared goals, space, and sustenance are the underlying messages that are symbolized by the inclusion of this first feast. Fos...


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...from their interactions during the meal.
Thomas C. Forester recognized the significance of the shared meal in literature, and his explanation was depicted in his novel How to Read Literature Like a Professor. This idea that the meal has important value to the understanding of a piece of literature is exhibited in Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf. Heaney depicts the worth of including meal scenes in literature through manipulating the banquets to illuminate the need of peace and community in times of violence, as well as to demonstrate the veneration the characters feel for their hero, Beowulf.



Works Cited

Donoghue, Daniel, and Seamus Heaney. Beowulf A Verse Translation. New York: Norton, 2002. Print.
Foster, Thomas C. How to Read Literature like a Professor: a Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading between the Lines. New York: Harper, 2003. Print.

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