Essay A Jungian Reading of Beowulf

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A Jungian Reading of Beowulf This essay will propose an alternative means by which to examine the distinctive fusion of historical, mythological, and poetic elements that make up the whole of Beowulf. Jeffrey Helterman, in a 1968 essay, “Beowulf: The Archetype Enters History,” first recognized Grendel as a representation of the Shadow archetype and identified Grendel’s mother as an archetypal Anima image; I wish to extend the scope of the reading by suggesting that the dragon, too, represents an archetype: the archetype of the Self. John Miles Foley, in his landmark 1977 essay “Beowulf and the Psychohistory of Anglo-Saxon Culture,” first suggested that the progression of battles between man and monster in Beowulf symbolically…show more content…
This essay will involve an exploration of images or image clusters which circumscribe the archetypes of the hero, the shadow, the anima, and the Self. Unfortunately, Jung’s discussions of individual archetypes were not free of cultural or sexual bias. For example, his description of the shadow, the archetype of the psyche’s “dark side” which I agree is represented in Beowulf by Grendel, suggested that aggression and emotionalism were always shadow-like behaviors; he never suggested that those behaviors could be desirable in some societies, nor did he ever address the cultural bias inherent in his assertions. Jung’s students Jolande Jacobi and Marie-Louise von Franz, in particular, sought to clarify Jung’s position by suggesting that a shadow projection expresses behaviors undesirable to the society in which its parent personality lives. Jung’s definition of the anima has also drawn its share of criticism. His definitions of the archetype were certainly culture-bound; he repeatedly identifies both “soft” and “manipulative” qualities in common anima figures. For him, the anima is also gender-specific; there is no possibility that an anima projection could exist for a woman. In recent years, however, a number of analysts have challenged this idea. Edward C. Whitmont and James Hillman, among others, have rejected the notion that the anima is gender specific, although there is a general agreement

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