An Analysis of 'Beowulf'

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The Old English epic Beowulf is built around the archetype of the journeying hero. Beowulf exemplifies a classical hero, one who is not immune from hubris, but who channels his strong will into judicious endeavors. Thus, Beowulf dies with the honor and glory befitting a king. His story is one of distinct binaries between good and evil. On the side opposite to Beowulf's goodness is the gruesome Grendel. Grendel is a monster, and the original epic poem does nothing to introduce moral ambiguity that would engender any sympathy for the creature. The creature represents brute force and misanthropic evil, which Beowulf successfully vanquishes. Therefore, Beowulf is established as an existential warrior-hero whose acts of courage and bravery are not just beneficial for his ego but to all of humanity. Grendel is a one-dimensional monster; whereas Beowulf is slightly more complex due to his status and role in society. In 1971, John Gardner retells the medieval tale of Beowulf, from Grendel's point of view. In so doing, Gardner creates a new postmodern hero. Grendel is not the demon that Beowulf and the Danes thought he was; a literary technique that raises all sorts of issues related to stereotyping, discrimination, racism, imperialism, and cultural hegemony. Grendel also reworks the theme of heroism by injecting moral ambiguity into the original story. With Grendel, Gardner replaces a more realistic version of moral right and wrong for the simple dualistic worldview of Beowulf.

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