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The Complex Hero In Beowulf Essay

998 words - 4 pages

The story of Beowulf is one of the oldest examples of what society views as a hero. Though the story was written in Anglo-Saxon times, the credentials one would need in order to be considered by society a hero remain the same. The Anglo-Saxons believed that a hero was strong and courageous, but humble and kind as well. They also believed that a hero was intelligent and dignified, in which he would fight until death in order to defend his people. In Beowulf and Grendel, directed by Sturla Gunnarsson, Beowulf is depicted as caring, compassionate, noble, and understanding, which makes him seem as if he had every trait of a true hero. He seems quite the opposite, however, in the story Grendel by John Gardner. The book Grendel portrays Beowulf as sinister and ruthless, which makes him seem less of a hero. What society values in a hero today is portrayed more in the movie than the book, which suggests that one is considered a true hero only if he or she has certain heroic traits accepted by society.
One characteristic a person must have in order to be considered a hero is honor. The Anglo-Saxons thought highly of this trait, and believed that being honorable was almost a requirement in order to be considered a hero. This was because they believed that a hero was supposed to be a role model to others. If one had no honor, he or she would not be a role model to others, causing him or her to not have the privilege of being considered a hero. This trait is portrayed differently in the book and movie. Throughout Beowulf and Grendel, Beowulf constantly proves that he is honorable, in which he shows a tremendous amount of respect for not only the Danes, but Grendel as well. Though he kills Grendel at the end of the movie, he shows a great amount of respect for him by making a memorial where Grendel is buried, as well as sparing his son’s life. Beowulf also confronts the Danes, explaining to them that Grendel was not just the hideous monster they believed him to be. Because of these actions, Beowulf seems more respectable. According to society, this would make him a hero. Though the movie shows a great example of how Beowulf represents society's hero, the novel, Grendel shows the other side of this hero. Near the end of the book when Grendel is about to face his inevitable death, he meets Beowulf. Instead of killing the beast, Beowulf decides to mock Grendel. He does this by making him beg for his life and sing before killing him. This is evident in the book when after smashing Grendel's head into a wall, Beowulf orders Grendel to sing, saying, “Observe the hardness, write it down in careful runes. Now sing of the walls!” (171). Instead of killing Grendel in an honorable way, Beowulf mocks, as well as embarrasses him until he is finally dead. In the novel, honor seems to be nonexistent in Beowulf. The lack...

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