Beowulf Good Vs Evil
In the relationship between the individual and society, Beowulf is glorified as a hero and has a long tenure as king due to him following the warrior code of ethics. Set in the Anglo-Saxon society, people during this time lived in constant jeopardy as war was extremely rampant. These poor conditions only allowed men of great bravery and courage to be admired by the people. Characters in the poem take pride in ancestors who have acted courageously, and they attempt to live up to the same standards as them. The story is essentially record of Beowulf’s heroic deeds as he stands out from society by perfectly reflecting the ideals of society. These ideals that this Angelo-Saxon society push onto people completely revolve around an honorable reputation, being a good warrior, and being a good king.
Beowulf acts as society dictates he should by destroying what is seemingly destroying society. He battles Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and the dragon. Grendel descended from Cain, who was the first murderer in the bible. Grendel kills people for fun and his appearance resembles an animalistic monster that represents his evil personality. Grendel’s mother, a demon even more monstrous than Grendel, seeks revenge on Beowulf and Hrothgar’s men for the death of her son. After defeating Grendel’s mother, King Hrothgar praises him as a worthy hero and helps appoint him as the next king. The ancient fire breathing dragon is the most powerful compared to the others and could represent death itself considering the encounter ended in both the dragon and Beowulf being killed.
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This heroic society is concerned with fame and there is great importance of establishing identity and individual reputation. Beowulf is no exception because he deeply cares about what people think about him and wants to be remembered. He seeks immortality on earth by establishing his reputation as a hero through doing deeds that will live in memory. Beowulf takes heroic action against dangerous creatures knowing he will be remembered for it. His quest for glory never ends and drives him throughout his life. After succeeding in killing the dragon, he discovers that the dragon bit him in the neck, and its venom kills him as his death is both heroic and tragic.
The warriors of Beowulf seek fame through feats of strength, bravery in the face of danger, an utter disdain for death, as well as by boasting about their strength and bravery. The quest for fame has great significance to a warrior in the Angelo Saxon society trying to establish themselves in the world. Beowulf succeeds in his quest of glory and lives up to the legacy of his loved ones. For instance in his funeral, everyone valued him greatly considering the amount of treasure and how gold and jewels equals a great man. On page 203, lines 3010-3020, it says “His royal pyre will melt no small amount of gold: heaped there in a hoard, it was brought at heavy cost, and that pile of rings he paid for at the end of his own life will go up with the flame, be furled in fire”. The poet goes into such great detail about his death and funeral because of how memorable Beowulf’s legacy was.
Beowulf is essentially instructions on how to behave in an honorable way in this particular society. Beowulf is an example of someone who is able to successfully follow the heroic code and combine it with the good nature of his own moral compass. He gives several speeches over the course of the poem filled with many of the same sentiments that are in the heroic code. In his speech to Hrothgar, he recounts many courageous and heroic deeds he has completed up to this point. He says “All knew of my awesome strength. They had seen me boltered in the blood of the enemies when I battled and bound five beasts, raided a troll-next and in the night-sea slaughtered sea-brutes” (page 29, lines 418-422). In another speech before battling the dragon, He says ‘But I shall be meeting molten venom in the fire he breathes, so I go forth in the mail-shirt and shield. I won’t shift a foot when I meet the cave-guard: what occurs on the wall between the two of us will turn out as fate, overseer of men, decides “(page 171, lines 2522-2528). The speeches are significant in terms of the ideas given throughout the poem, for example, the idea of a leadership and what makes a good leader.
Beowulf retaliates with justifiable violence towards anyone or anything that puts the people in danger. Beowulf seeks revenge because the poem takes place in a world filled with violence and injustice. Beowulf stops at nothing to seek revenge for wrongs done to the innocent people. On page 97, lines 1384-1386, he addresses the importance of seeking revenge saying, “It is always better to avenge dear ones than to indulge in mourning”. Many of the other characters are attempting avenging something, or someone at a point. For instance, Grendel seeks revenge for being mistreated by The Danes and feeling like an outcast. Grendel’s Mother seeks vengeance for her son’s murder. Both Grendel and Grendel’s Mother are slain by Beowulf and he starts gaining the respect and affection of others as a result.
The ethical values in this society come directly from the heroic code. The code maintains that honor is gained during life through doing good deeds. The heroic code requires values strength, loyalty, and courage in warriors and a good reputation in everybody. It also holds that the king must provide the people with protection against danger. This society also emphasizes the importance of family history and the obligation to uphold a memorable reputation for family’s sake. This warrior society highly values its heroic code, it highly esteems those who conform to the code’s principles. It is obvious throughout the poem that Beowulf exemplifies the heroic code.
Beowulf possesses heroic qualities such as courage, selflessness, strength, moral, and fearlessness. He follows this code and leads by example throughout the poem. He rises to kingship after proving himself trustworthy and reigns for 50 years. Beowulf slays 3 monsters during the duration of his reign as king. He leads his nation well, and in return he is given a great reputation and praises from the people. Beowulf values his ancestry and those who have died before him more than anything. His last words before dying on page 189 lines 2813-2816 says “You are the last of us, the only one left of the Waegmundings. Fate swept us away, sent my whole brave high-born clan to their final doom. Now I must follow them.” Even in his last words, he put other people before himself and emphasized the importance of following in his ancestors footsteps.
Although Beowulf conforms to society’s ideals and values, the conflict occurs when his individuality gets the best of him. His individuality allows him to become a monster himself. He becomes a victim of his pride and quest for personal glory. He fights Grendel unarmed to show off. He solves violence with more violence which is counterproductive in the long run. Concerns arise that he just wanted to increase his own fame and glory rather be a service to the people. He is warned by King Hrothgar to seek protection of the people over personal glory after Beowulf comes to his aid to fight Grendel. On page 121, lines 1759-1762, Hrothgar states “O flower of warriors, beware of that rap. Choose, dear Beowulf, the better part, eternal rewards. Do not give way to pride.”
Beowulf matures from a good warrior to a king as he gets older. The poem distinguishes the difference between a warrior and a king. A warrior seeks out battles for his own greatness whereas a king is selfless who acts for the good of the people. He maintains the balance of personal heroism and keeping the people safe a lot better than he did in his younger days. Beowulf also becomes increasingly aware of his own mortality and strays away from becoming overconfident in his own abilities. His last match with the Dragon was out of concern for the people rather personal gain. Even though this was his most genuine deed considering his old age and the power of the dragon, he was ultimately killed. His sacrifice was seen as heroic as he truly fought for the protection of the people and let go of the glory of winning.
In conclusion, Beowulf is an example of how you can stand out by conforming to society. It is instructions on how to behave in a society set around a set code in which Beowulf is the prototype. Although this poem was written anonymously in the 6th century, it gives great insight on the cultural context in the middle ages. It is one of the few manuscripts to have survived the Anglo-Saxon period. This poem is dedicated to the Heroic code, following tradition set by those who have come before you. Beowulf resolves the conflict of individual vs society by conforming to society and embodying the perfection of the heroic code. In other words, Beowulf is the representation of all things good. He fought every battle he could and won all of them except for one he couldn’t ever defeat; death. Beowulf died before he could even violate the heroic code.
Beowulf is successful in preserving the honor of his ancestors and keeps his reputation intact. He lives up to the legacy his father Ecgtheow left behind. Ecgtheow was known as a noble battle-leader and is still remembered well by everybody. He wins respect for gaining a reputation as a warrior, but also a reputation for his good deeds and heroic actions. He perfectly reflects the ideals of this society by being noble and courageous throughout. Although Beowulf lost the physical battle against the dragon, he wins the struggle between good and evil and he is forever immortalized through his memory. Beowulf finally finds the fame he has been searching for.