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Unwanted Qualities from the Monsters

Updated on October 31, 2008

Unwanted Qualities from the Monsters

Epic poems and tales give valuable information on how people were to attempt to live. They also give information on what a good person was supposed to be. In Beowulf, the poem tells us about certain qualities that we should not have. A monster that Beowulf was to defeat represents each of these qualities.

In the poem, there are three monsters. They each represent qualities that good humans should not have, while Beowulf can represent some of the qualities we should want. The first of the three monsters is Grendel. Grendel was an outcast in the Dane society. “He had dwelt for a time/ in misery among the banished.” (l. 104-105) He is a descendent of Cain, therefore expected to be evil. And when King Hrothgar had the mead-hall built, Grendel was unaware of it, and became jealous and envious when he found out. Grendel represents jealousy and envy. Because he will never become someone allowed in the mead-hall, something that can be seen as what he wants, the jealousy and envy have taken him over. He is described as being possibly having dragon like skin but he is also personified so much. This personification can be seen as the jealousy and envy taking over a person. When Beowulf does not kill Grendel directly but fatally rips his arm off, leaving him to die slowly, this slow death can be represented as how jealousy and envy can and will slowly kill a person in time. A good person should want to rid themselves of these qualities because the outcome would be like Grendel’s, a slow, painful death.

Also, like Grendel, we see other monsters that represent unwanted qualities. The second of the three monsters is Grendel’s mother. After Grendel’s death, the Danes never thought about if Grendel had some family or friends who would avenge his death. In that society, avenging someone’s death would have been acceptable. Even Beowulf knew that avenging a death was acceptable when he said, “Wise sir, do not grieve. It is always better/ to avenge dear ones than to indulge in the mourning.” (l. 1384-1385) The Danes did not regard Grendel as a human and was not expecting his death to be avenged; yet Grendel’s mother had a different view of this. She wanted revenge for her son’s death. Grendel’s mother represents vengeance. Grendel’s mother is also an outcast within the society and a descendant of Cain. She is not so vengeful that she goes on a killing spree, but vengeful enough to attack the mead hall at night. After she takes King Hrothgar’s, “most beloved/ of the friend’s between the two seas,” (l 1296-1297), she returns to her lair, deep underground, at the bottom of the lake. Because the Danes also wanted to avenge the death of the king’s friend, Beowulf, unselfishly, decides to go avenge the death. He must swim to the bottom of the lake to get to Grendel’s mother’s lair. This shows that a vengeful spirit can live deep inside someone, and to defeat this spirit, the search will be deep inside that person. Once Beowulf defeats Grendel’s mother, the entire lake becomes purified of the evil that resides there. “The wide water, the waves and pools, / were no longer infested once the wandering fiend/ let go of her life and this unreliable world.” (l. 1620-1622) Vengeance can be the core of the evil in a person, and once defeated, the rest can become good also.

The poem also presents the third and final quality that is unwanted. It had been fifty years after Beowulf had defeated Grendel and his mother. Beowulf had returned home to his homeland and became king there and his rule was successful. There was a dragon that lived near by to Beowulf’s kingdom, which guarded old treasure. A thief stole a goblet from him and awakened him, and the dragon then went on a revengeful killing spree. “The dragon began to belch out flames/ and burn bright homesteads; there was a hot glow/ that scared everyone, for the vile sky-winger/ would leave nothing alive in his wake.” (l. 2312-2315) The dragon held onto this treasure, which is useless now, so long that he was able to know exactly what was gone and he must have had it back. The dragon represents greed and selfishness. The dragon began to slay people because of his missing goblet. When Beowulf heard about the dragon, he decided to do something about it immediately, as a good king should. During the battle between Beowulf and the dragon, both parties were fatally wounded. The dragon fought to the death to protect “his” treasure that he found, while Beowulf fought to protect “his” people. The dragon’s greed and selfishness had taken over his life and his lifestyle, which became the death of me. It can also be seen that Beowulf had allowed greed to overcome him, and that being the death of him also. He wanted the dragon’s treasure for his people, and his last wish was to see the treasure that he had won with his life for his people. “…that I behold this treasure here in front of me, / that I have been allowed to leave my people…” (l. 2976-2977) Through both the dragon and Beowulf, we see that greed and selfishness can be the death of someone.

In conclusion, it is seen there are unwanted qualities that reside in people. In Beowulf, jealousy and envy, vengeance, and greed and selfishness are all represented by a monster, which is eventually defeated. According to the poem, we should defeat these qualities in our own lives too, for they shall surely be the death of us.


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