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Fate In The German Epics And Modern America

2944 words - 12 pages

Fate is defined as “something that unavoidably befalls a person; that free will does not exist” (American Heritage Dictionary). Fate is one of the central themes in the three Germanic Epics: The Nibelungenlied, Njal’s Saga, and Beowulf. In all the stories, the characters believe everything that occurs is predetermined. Hagen believes that he is fated to die in The Nibelungenlied; Njal sees the future through his dream in Njal’s Saga; Beowulf defeats Grendel’s Mother because fate has decided that he should win in Beowulf. Evidently, almost all of the characters in Germanic epics have a fatalist view towards life. In contrast, America was founded on the notion that everyone has free will. From the Declaration of Independence to the Bill of Rights, people are ensured the right to create their own future. Currently, this idea still stands, since America is often labeled the “Land of the Free [Will]”. In a paper published by Dr. L. Robert Kohls, director of international programs at Washington and S.F. State University, he claims:
Americans do not believe in the power of fate. In the American context, to be “fatalistic” is to be superstitious, lazy, or unwilling to take initiative. Most Americans find it impossible to accept that there are some things that lie beyond the power of humans to achieve. Americans believe every single individual should have control over whatever in the environment might potentially affect him or her.

From Dr. Kohl’s extensive study of different cultures, he accurately describes the average American’s belief that they are in control of their future. Despite the contrast, Americans are much more inclined towards believing in fate than they appear. In reality, the Germanic idea of fate is integrated into all aspects of American culture, from movies to religious beliefs.
In the German epic The Nibelungelied, fate is portrayed as a powerful force that can even change the mindset of the most powerful men, such as Hagen. Initially, Hagen advocates the belief of free will. This can be seen through his actions, especially when he assumes leadership over King Gunther. Although, as king, Gunther is supposed to be the most powerful man in Burgundy, he defers most of this power to Hagen. Whenever a decision is needed, Hagen assumes the role of the leader and makes the choices because he believes in free will; he believes he has the power to determine his future. If Hagen believed in fate, he would be “lazy, or unwilling to take initiative to act”, as stated by Dr. Kohl. This is not the situation; the American value of free will is present in the mind of Hagen.
Yet, although Hagen takes the initiative to act, it may not mean that he necessarily believes in free will. In Njal’s Saga, for example, Gunnar is also very ambitious, yet he believes in fate. Gunnar says, “[d]eath will come to me when it will come… if that is my fate” (Chapter 67). However, the scene with the nixies in The Nibelungenlied proves...

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