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Beowulf: The Outsiders Essay

1118 words - 4 pages

In the Anglo-Saxon poem called Beowulf the concept of outsiders is not only established through its monstrous antagonists, but also humanoid supporting characters. Conversely the protagonist, Beowulf, and his portrayal of godlike perfection allows the reader to interpret Beowulf himself as the central outcast, existing in an imperfect world. Beowulf becomes an outsider while in contrast with other generally perceived outcast characters such as Unferth or the monster Grendel and his unnamed mother.
Beowulf was written between the 8th century and 10th century in England, however it is set approximately during the 6th century in Scandinavia (“Beowulf”, Gale). As a result of its origins, Beowulf’s pagan mentions are often shrouded by Christian substitutes; yet Beowulf’s pagan ideals are still transferred into the title character’s persona. The protagonist, Beowulf, is an obvious beacon of honour and his boasts of heroism aid his symbolic isolation from his other human counterparts. Unferth, for example, who is first mentioned around line 500 challenges the validity of Beowulf’s boasts; consequentially resulting in Beowulf bragging about his accomplishments further and then compare them to Unferth’s own infamous past (“Beowulf”, Norton). Beowulf’s response gives the reader cause to resent Unferth and again separate Beowulf from the ordinary men of Heorot. Ironically, Unferth’s position on Beowulf changes as he offers his own sword to Beowulf supporting his solo attack on Grendel’s mother (“Beowulf” 1455-1472). This change shows contrast between the characters since Unferth will not risk probable death to protect his fellow people, while the macho Beowulf storms into danger, seeking honour and fame. Fifty years later Beowulf evolves into a model king and protects the Geats from a raging dragon; a variation of his former self, although still enthralled by treasure and glory, Beowulf now fights to protect his kingdom. Continuing on Beowulf’s reign as king, the poet reveals that Beowulf had neither a queen nor any blood heirs to his throne. In relation to Beowulf as an isolated character, his lack of family again stimulates his godlikeness when compared to other kingdoms and perhaps indirectly an allusion to the Christian beliefs of the poet. Seemingly, to an extent, everyone in Beowulf is an outsider because of the lack of connectivity and character depth in the poem, but even so Beowulf, in comparison to the rest of his world, is the ultimate outcast. J.R.R. Tolkien’s statement, “Man alien in a hostile world, engaged in a struggle which he cannot win while the world lasts,” from his essay on Beowulf, finds sarcasm in the term ‘alien’ because as monstrous as the creatures faced by Beowulf his seclusion is concealed by his heroics.
According to translator and poet Seamus Heaney (regarding Tolkien’s essay) he praises Tolkien’s notion that the poet wrote Beowulf as an artistic piece, incorporating not only historical folklore, but also elements of the...

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