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Many times we see a battle of good vs. evil in movies, books, society, and in this case, an epic poem. This motif is used so often because it pertains to so many facets of authentic life. The epic poem Beowulf is an example of this because the hero of the story has an ongoing conflict with the evil villain, Grendel. In Beowulf, the conflict between good and evil is the poem’s main and most important aspect. The poet makes it clear that good and evil do not exist as only opposites, but that both qualities are present in everyone. Beowulf represents the ability to do good, or to perform acts selflessly and in help of others. Goodness is also showed throughout this epic as having the ability to cleanse evil. Even though evil is presented by Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and the dragon, who are filled with a desire to act against people and ultimately destroy them. Even pride, a human quality, is presented in Beowulf as a sign that evil exists.
Beowulf is the character in the story that played the super hero. He was the man who went to innocent peoples rescue. When they needed someone to help them he was the man who would respond to their cries for help. For example, Beowulf went to the aid of the people of another country to fight a monster and protect them from another ambush of attacks from the monster. He risked his own life, to face this monster that would destroy any human in a matter of seconds. Beowulf isn’t just any normal human, he has the strength of 30 men in each hand. He is “the Prince of goodness”(46). He has been sent down from heaven to protect the earth from evil such as Grendel. As you can see clearly by the fact that he is called “The Prince of goodness” he is the “good guy” in the story (46). He has been chosen to protect the world from evil. When this story was made, the author intended for it to be clear that Beowulf is supposed to be the hero of the story.
Beowulf takes it upon himself to announce several great deeds that he will perform to help countries in need. One of these deeds is his offer to King Hrothgar, in which he proposes to slay Grendel. Beowulf states, “single handed I’ll settle the strife (37).
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Goodness is not only portrayed by selfless acts, but also by its ability to purge and cleanse evil. This is first shown after Beowulf slays Grendel. The poet says, “Beowulf had purged of evil the hall of Hrothgar, and cleansed of crime; the heart of the hero” (49). The good done by Beowulf is shown to have the ability to cleanse Herot of evil. Another example of good cleansing evil occurs after Beowulf had slayed both Grendel and Grendel’s mother, and is departing to fight his final battle. The poet states, “Purged of evil the hall of Hrothgar and crushed out Grendel’s loathsome kin” By destroying both Grendel and Grendel’s mother, Beowulf has purified hall of Hrothgar of all evils (52). Furthermore Beowulf announces that he will rid Herot of evil. Beowulf says, “that I may alone with my loyal earls, with this hardly company, cleanse Hart-Hall”(52). Beowulf means to eliminate all evils in Herot, and to purify it. The ability goodness has to cleanse evil is very visible in Beowulf.
Grendel was the character that played the villain” in the poem. He killed innocent people for only the reason of that they were having a good time, and he wasn’t. He is pure evil and kills countless people for pretty much for the fun of it. He was said to be able to pick up thirty men at a time. So no normal human could match his strength. In the book it’s very easy to understand that Grendel is pure evil. He is called “The Captain of Evil” (50). It doesn’t get anyone obvious then that. Grendel is shown as a monster that cannot be stopped. He’s a powerful force that can run through anyone and everything but not a super hero. He could never match the power of pure good. So when Grendel fought Beowulf, Beowulf tricked him in thinking he was asleep and as soon as Grendel got near him Beowulf grabbed him. Once Grendel was grabbed by Beowulf, he immediately knew that he was up against a man like no other. He franticly tried to escape and run away but the power of the hero and the good that ran through his veins was able to rip the arm from the evil beast. Then Grendel ran away and bled to death. It was made very clearly that Grendel was supposed to be evil villain in the story, and that’s how the author intended it to be.
Evil is represented in Beowulf partly through the creatures in it. Evil is first shown by the monster Grendel. “Grendel slew thirty spearsmen asleep in the hall, sped away gloating, gripping the spoil”, the poet declares (48). Grendel enjoyed killing these spearmen, making him Beowulf’s first evil creature. Another evil beast in Beowulf is Grendel’s mother. The poet describes her as “a monster hag”, giving the idea that she, like her son, represents evil (86). The fire dragon also symbolizes evil. “The dragon burned the bright dwellings, the glow of the blaze filled hearts with horror”, the poet states (80). The fire dragon’s goal is to strike fear into the hearts of the people of Geatland showing that he is clearly an evil creature. Creatures in Beowulf make up much of the evil that is displayed through the entire poem.
Evil is also portrayed in Beowulf as pride, Hrothgar gives Beowulf a long lecture warning him about the dangers of pride. He says, “and evil assails not until in his heart pride overpowering gathers and grows” (92). Hrothgar is warning Beowulf not to allow devilish pride to grow in his heart in soul. Hrothgar adds, “since God has granted him glory and wealth he forgets the future, unmindful of Fate” (92). Hrothgar is telling Beowulf to use the Power God has given him well, but not to forget the future for death could be near. Hrothgar concludes his advice to Beowulf on pride by again warning him of the perils of pride. He suggests, “Beware of Pride Now for a time you shall feel the fullness and know the glory of strength, but soon sickness or sword shall strip you of that might” (75). Hrothgar now is telling Beowulf not to think of himself invincible because as soon as that happens, his body may fail him and it is too late to make up for evil things he has done. In Beowulf, pride is presented as an evil, with fatal consequences.
When the story “Beowulf was made, it was very obvious who the bad guy was and who the good guy was. Beowulf was described and made to be the hero, while Grendel was described and made to be the villain. Throughout the epic poem Beowulf, the motif of good vs. Evil is shown. In this case, as well as all others, good prevails over evil. This is because Good will get you somewhere in life. It will help you set goals and then reach them. Evil is just the opposite. It will get you no where and will cause nothing but heartache to you as well as the people you thrive on. It is important to understand the difference in these two, because there is no in between. Something is either good or it is evil. Good and evil are both very apparent throughout Beowulf. Good represented by both selfless acts completed by Beowulf as well as its ability to cleanse evil. The evil creatures that Beowulf faces as well as pride together show the evil in the poem. Together they portray Beowulf’s most important aspect, the conflict between good and evil.
Abrams, M.H. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. New York: Norton, 2000