Beowulf Analysis

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In Beowulf there is a recurring tension between Christianity and native heathenry throughout the world of classic Germanic literature and legend. Though all Germanic nations ultimately adopted Christian belief, pre-Christian ideas, characters, and themes persisted in art and storytelling. Whereas, in The Tale of Genji (TG) by Murasaki Shikibu written in the late 10th Century describes an aristocratic worldview in the Heian period (794-1185) and allows therefore a closer look at the religious and spiritual understanding of the Japanese upper class in this timeframe. While Shinto influence is mentioned in the novel, Buddhism, as a popular religion once introduced to the official court practice by Prince Shotoku in the 6. Century, is in the TG a part of everyday life. There are many elements of Christianity found throughout the story of Beowulf: that man survives only through the protection of God, that all earthly gifts flow from God, and that the proper bearing of man is to be humble and unselfish. However, the strong sense of heroic pride within Beowulf can at times be in direct conflict with these Christian values. Through this juxtaposition, we see the dichotomies of pride vs. humility and sacrifice vs. selfishness. When Beowulf relates his battle with Grendel's mother he acknowledges God as his protector as do others. The leader of the Geats states that he would "gladly trust the force of God’s favor” (W.Lit. 922). There is a sense of mystical protection present throughout the story of Beowulf. Yet in the story there is also a strong sense that God's protection must be earned; a warrior must first be true to his values, courage, honesty, pride, and humility and only then will he earn God's protection. In addition to earthly protection, there is also the sense that all earthly good, be it success or wealth, derives from God. God is described as the “Granter of Grace, true Lord of glory” (W.Lit. 967). The true power lies with God. Any delight that a man enjoys here on earth is achieved only through the grace of God. Not only that, but the earthly success, given by God, must be handled with humility and a sense of sharing or the earthly king will bring on his own doom. Hrothgar tells Beowulf that life itself

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