Monsters In Beowulf Essay

2480 words - 10 pages

There are three prominent monsters in the Beowulf text, Grendel, his mother, and the dragon. While the dragon proves to be the most fatale of foes for Beowulf, Grendel and his mother do not simply pose physical threats to the Germanic society; their roles in Beowulf are manifold. They challenge the perceptions of heroism, a sense of unrivalled perfection and superiority. Moreover, they allow the reader to reconsider the gender constructs upheld within the text; one cannot help but feel that the threat that these monsters present is directed towards the prevalent flaws in Beowulf’s world. Moreover, what makes these monsters is not their physical appearance; it is what they embody. Both Grendel and his mother have humanlike qualities yet their monstrous appearance arises from what their features and mannerisms represent. The challenge they pose to societal paradigms makes them far more terrifying to our heroes than any scaled flesh or clawing hand. These monsters provide the ‘most authoritative general criticism […] of the structure and conduct of the poem’. Their presence provides contrast and criticism of the brave society (Heaney 103).
Grendel’s emergence is sudden and immediately the reader is presented with the image of a ‘fiend out of hell’ who has been provoked by the construction of Heorot. Indeed, the poet notes that the monster had long ‘nursed a hard grievance’, forced to listen to the clatter and din emitting from the mead hall. Heorot itself is given a sense of foreboding, in spite of being ‘meant to be a wonder of the world forever’, the poet admits that it was simply ‘awaiting a barbarous burning’ (Heaney 69, 82). Is the poet subtly suggesting that the construction of Heorot is not a symbol of marvel but rather a representation of the conflict that continues to exist within these kinship structures of this Germanic society? Grendel’s arrival after the mead hall is erected may be seen as a sudden reminder of the issues within this society. His appearance seems to awake them from ‘their feasting, insensible to pain and human sorrow’ that lies just outside their gates (Beowulf 119). The hall is noted to be the future home of ‘the killer instinct/ blood lust’ yet is this indicative of Grendel’s arrival or simply a reinforcement of the tenuous nature of the familial structures within the text. The ambiguity regarding this blood lust suggests that Grendel is not the only antagonist within this civilization and simply embodies the ‘evils in the world’ on a smaller scale (Beowulf 100).
Consider the nature of Grendel; he is not unlike Beowulf in his manner. Indeed, he is depicted as ‘the twin or double of the monster killing hero, for the two signify, respectively, the same maleficent and beneficent aspects of the same mythic violence’ (Lionarons 4). He takes thirty ‘butchered corpses’ back to his lair, like a monstrous victory trophy to feast upon later (Beowulf 123). While the poet admits that he is nothing more than a ‘God-cursed brute...

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