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Good and Evil in Beowulf Essay


Beowulf is an Anglo-Saxon epic poem that portrays a story of an epic hero who seems destined to destroy all monsters in order to save a kingdom from death and destruction. The major theme in this epic surrounds the concept of good versus evil. Good versus evil has existed throughout time, in that, heroes have defended the righteous and villains were bent on destruction. In this case, Beowulf and Grendel represent the ultimate struggle of good and evil. Beowulf represents the ability to do good, and perform selfless acts in order to help others. Through his heroic deeds, Beowulf is the embodiment of good. On the other hand, Grendel is not just a nemesis or an antagonist. He is the real thing in that he is pure unadulterated evil, there is no room to change and he can never be redeemed. Throughout the epic, all portrayals of good demonstrate the ability to cleanse the world of evil. More specifically, in the epic Beowulf, the concept of light and dark is a reoccurring theme where light represents good and dark represents evil.

The light and dark imagery used in Beowulf helps to make contrasts between good and evil especially in the episodes of battle. So, after nightfall, Grendel set out/./Suddenly then the God-cursed brute was creating havoc//Then as dawn brightened and the day broke/Grendels powers of destruction were plain.(Lines 115-129). When Heorot is attacked, the imagery of light and dark can be seen in that it implies that Grendel only attacks at night, because once daylight emerges Grendel loses his powers. The darkness of the night represents evil which also reinforces the idea that Grendel is pure evil. He took over Heorot/haunted the glittering hall after dark/but the throne itself, the treasure-seat/he was kept from approaching; he was the Lords outcast (lines 166-169). This is another instance where the light and dark imagery collided because Grendel wouldnt touch the throne because it represented glory or light and Grendel personified pure evil.

In Beowulf, the theme of good and evil had an overall effect implying that no matter how much evil there is in the world, it can always be overcome by good. In the fight with Grendel, Beowulf makes the choice to not fight with any armor or use any weapon to defeat Grendel. In essence, defeating Grendel without armor or weapons, shows that man can defeat evil in any form. In lines 500-605, Beowulf and Unferth engaged in some type of boasting contest which is referred to as flyting. As Unferth taunts Beowulf, he strikes back and through his words expresses a sense of hubris. Beowulf also denounces Unferth and his abilities by proclaiming that if Unferth was so courageous why is Grendel still at large. He basically damns him to the depths of hell. Unferth can be linked with evil in that he just like Cain killed his brothers. Even in this boasting contest, Beowulf representing good overcomes the evil in Unferth. In its Greek origin, hubris refers to one equating oneself with the Gods. In this case, the strong sense of heroic pride within Beowulf is at times a direct conflict with his Christian values. With that said, throughout the epic, Beowulf constantly acknowledges his belief in God and that man only survives through the protection of God. For example, in lines 685-687, And may the Divine Lord/in His wisdom grant the glory of victory/to whichever side He sees fit. This fortifies his belief that God rules over mankind and always will. In Grendels case, ever since the beginning of the poem, has been equated with Cain, or as a direct descendant of Cain. Grendel was the name of this grim demon/haunting the marches, marauding round the heath/and the desolate fens; he had dwelt for a time/in misery among banished monsters/Cains clan, whom the Creator had outlawed/and condemned as outcasts (lines 102-107).

Even before Beowulf arrived to battle Grendel, he was well known for his strength from his previous battles with sea monsters. Beowulf represents the epic superlative when he is said to have the strength of thirty men. It almost seems like Beowulfs appearance as the heroic figure foreshadowed the success he would have with Grendel, as if it was his destiny. The concept of good and evil is evident throughout the entire poem. It is portrayed in more ways than one but more specifically though light and dark imagery. Beowulf is the epic hero who is associated with exceptional qualities, virtues and basically all that is good and pure. While Grendel is pure evil, and has no remorse, or moral qualms about his actions. The resolution at the end of the epic is that good will overcome evil by any means and by all costs.

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