Beowulf an Archetypal Approach to Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

In this context, Beowulf is indeed the preserver of order against the darkness and anarchy brought by the violent, evil forces: "The circle of light that is human life is constantly under attack by the powers of Chaos and darkness, and the hero fends them off as well as he can, purging Heorot and Grendel's mere, fighting monsters in the waters, harrowing Hell in order that God's light may shine the more clearly upon His creation."(Grant, 51) However, as Grant indicates, Beowulf's story is interpretable as the archetypical conflict between light and darkness, rather than that between good and evil in a Christian or moral sense.

However, there are arguments in favor of a Christian interpretation of the text as well. While the poem evidently blends Christian and pagan symbols, it can be said that the anonymous author may have intended a moral interpretation of a pagan legend. In this case, the main theme is the archetypal battle between good and evil, with the ultimate triumph of evil. Another recognizable religious archetype here is that of Cain, the first murderer, who brought violence and hatred in the human world. Cain typifies the perpetrator who murders his kin and thus brings suffering to the innocent. Grendel, as the text indicates, is the image of Cain: "Till the monster stirred, that demon, that fiend / Grendel who haunted the moors, the wild/Marshes, and made his home in a hell./Not hell but hell on earth. He was spawned in that slime/of Cain, murderous creatures banished / by God, punished forever for the crime / of Abel's death."(Beowulf, 26) the monster symbolizes 'hell on earth', the ultimate evil that threatens God's creation. Critic Margaret Goldsmith indicates that the unknown author of Beowulf may have pieced the Germanic legend together with the intention of pointing to the moral lesson which can be derived from the hero's deeds: "He has treated the story of heathen Beowulf as an exegete might have treated, say, the story of Samson, by drawing a moral lesson from the hero's deeds."(Goldsmith, 100) in this sense, Beowulf's 'less Christian' features, his pride and his desire for wealth and fame can be interpreted as signals or warnings given by the author. Also, despite the fact that Beowulf dies somehow ingloriously in the end, wounded by the dragon and tempted by the treasure that the monster holds, it can be said that he finds redemption through Wiglaf's selfless gesture which has true Christian value:

Beowulf's temptation takes symbolic shape in the dragon's cursed treasure, for which the king, in his pride, would have given his life in vain, had it not been for Wiglaf, who rated the love of kin higher than his own life."(Goldsmith, 100) Thus, Wiglaf not only saves the life of the old and weakened hero, but at the same time he risks his own life and he does not act in his personal interest. Moreover, Wiglaf is unmindful of the fact that Beowulf's death would actually promote him and give him access to the throne. His gesture is thus a typically Christian one and it emphasizes the priority of neighbor' well-being over that of the self.

Thus, Beowulf combines both pagan and Christian patterns and symbols in its structure and thus lends itself to many different interpretations. There is an emphasis in the text on the conflict between good and evil, which can be interpreted both in a Christian and in a mythological sense. The poem is thus one of the literary masterpieces which is important precisely because of the way in which it represents certain social and human paradigms and archetypes.

Works Cited

Beowulf trans. By Edward L. Risden. Troy: Whitston Publishing, 1994

Goldsmith, Margaret http://galenet.galegroup.com/images/chr/ldquo.gif

The Christian Theme of http://galenet.galegroup.com/images/chr/rdquo.gif in Medium Aevum, Vol. XXIX, No. 2, 1960, pp. 81-101

Grant, Ramond J.S. "Beowulf and the World of Heroic Elegy," in Leeds Studies in English, Vol. 8, 1975, pp. 45-75.

Moorman, Charles. "The Essential Paganism of Beowulf," in Modern Language Quarterly, Vol. XXVIII, No. 1, March, 1967, pp. 3-18.

Sources Used in Document:

Works Cited

Beowulf trans. By Edward L. Risden. Troy: Whitston Publishing, 1994

Goldsmith, Margaret http://galenet.galegroup.com/images/chr/ldquo.gif

The Christian Theme of http://galenet.galegroup.com/images/chr/rdquo.gif in Medium Aevum, Vol. XXIX, No. 2, 1960, pp. 81-101

Grant, Ramond J.S. "Beowulf and the World of Heroic Elegy," in Leeds Studies in English, Vol. 8, 1975, pp. 45-75.

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