The Conflicts in Beowulf
Brian Wilkie and James Hurt in Literature of the Western World discuss what is perhaps the overriding or central conflict in the poem Beowulf, namely the struggle between good and evil, and how the monsters are representative of the evil side:
Ker was answered in 1936 by the critic and novelist J.R.R. Tolkien, author of Lord of the Rings, who argued that “the monsters are not an inexplicable blunder of taste; they are essential, fundamentally allied to the underlying ideas of the poem, which give it its lofty tone and high seriousness.” For Tolkien, the monsters were symbolic of eternal forces of evil while remaining real monsters (1273).
The numerous conflicts within Beowulf are both external and internal. Conflict is how one describes the relationship between the protagonist and antagonist in a literary work (Abrams 225). There is also another type of conflict which Clark describes below and which takes place within the mind and soul of a given character.
George Clark in “The Hero and the Theme” make reference to an interior conflict within the Beowulf hero himself, and how the hero appears to lose this conflict:
Although a strong critical movement followed Klaeber in taking Beowulf as a Christian hero or even Christ figure, the most numerous and influential body of postwar critics, including Margaret Goldsmith (1960, 1962, 1970), read the poem as faulting the hero for moral filures according to one or another Christian standard of judgment (see also Bolton 1978). The poem became a neo-Aritotelian tragedy in which the hero’s flaw could be identified as a sin, greed, or pride (279).
H. L. Rogers in “Beowulf’s Three Great Fights” expresses his opinion as a literary critic regarding conflicts in the poem:
The superhuman forces are Fate, the heathen gods, or the Christian God; conflicts between them and the hero’s character are frequently found. . . .The treatment in the three great fights of the motives of weapons, treasure and society implies a moral idea in which the poet believed: that a man should not trust in the things of this world, for they will fail him. Another aspect of this idea comes out clearly in the account of the first fight: that a man should trust rather in God and in the natural powers God gives him, for these will not fail him(234-37).
King Hrothgar’s construction of Heorot and the subsequent enhancement of the joy of the Danes precipitated the first serious conflicts in Beowulf:
So lived the clansmen in cheer and revel
a winsome life, till one began
to fashion evils, that field of hell.
Grendel this monster grim was called,
march-riever mighty, in moorland living,
in fen and fastness; fief of the giants
the hapless wight a while had kept
since the Creator his exile doomed.
This “kin of Cain” Grendel could not endure the joy of the Danes and their celebration of God’s creation of the world. Consequently he attacked Heorot and killed 30 warriors the...