Beowulf Gender Roles Essay

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The concept of ‘gender roles’ is widely used to analyse and understand different texts from different historical eras. In the time of the Anglo-Saxons, these roles seem to be fairly clearly set apart. The poem ‘Beowulf’ belongs to the genre of epic or heroic poetry, which are poems that typically celebrate the courageous and militaristic acts of their protagonists. It is a genre that is defined by its masculinity, as in the world of men and their fight to defend their honour, the only part that women have to play is that of the child bearer or wife . The position of woman in these poems is that of a ‘peace-weaver’, or of a fair and peaceful queen, like that of Wealtheow in Beowulf. Women who step outside this role were regarded poorly,…show more content…
Beowulf sums this up when he says ‘When it comes to fighting, I count myself as dangerous any day as Grendel’ (677-679). He doesn’t have to think any further than who can fight better. There is none of the intricacy of the peace-weaving of women. This use of gender roles makes the story easy to understand, and as the first major conflict in the poem, this is important to keep the reader occupied. This is especially relevant to the previously spoken nature of the poem, as it acts to draw the audience into the story, assuring their attention for when the poem becomes more complicated later on. Grendel is a straightforward, masculine villain, which is key to establishing Beowulf’s presence in the poem as a hero, as male triumphs over male in a show of valour and strength.
Grendel’s mother, on the other hand, is not such an easy foe to understand. She serves a function as a sort of feminine antitype. In Anglo-Saxon society, a mother was given purpose through her son . This is seen when Hrothgar says ‘whoever she [Beowulf’s mother] was who brought forth this flower of manhood, if she is still alive, that woman can say that in her labour the Lord of Ages bestowed a grace on her’ (941-945), when talking about what Beowulf has achieved. Grendel’s mother goes against this, acting for herself when her son is killed. Despite her deviant actions, she is never named in the poem, known only as ‘Grendel’s mother’. She is
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