Beowulf_as_Allegory 1

Period 1
Beowulf Final Project (Essay)
Beowulf: Man, or Symbol?
The entire saga of Beowulf, I truly believe, symbolizes the many facets of humanity. It
compares and contrasts the forces that strive to pull civilization apart, and the ones that
counter these forces, and form the glue that holds the pieces of society together. It is clear in
the book that Beowulf, the hero and king, represents the best society has to offer “There was
no one else like him alive. In his day, he was the mightiest man on earth”(Lines 196-97).
Meanwhile, the various villains of the tale personify the worst aspects of society, such as how
the Dragon is a living example of greed and selfishness taken to the ultimate level. And finally,
we have fair Heorot, which represents civilization itself. These three aspects combine into one
story in order to forge something truly remarkable: a written picture of humanity and
One of the first pieces of symbolism that we see in Beowulf is Heorot, which serves as a
symbol of civilization itself. This, in certain manner, is illustrated in line 78, where it describes
Heorot as the “Hall of halls”. This hall wasn’t just a home or treasury, but a symbol, one of
greatness, success, and fellowship. However, Heorot is also stunningly similar to modern day
governments, particularly in its vulnerability. The book describes Heorot as “waiting a
barbarous burning”. This is similar to governments, as it is clear that both are fragile.
Governments are in many ways the embodiment of civilization and unity, just as Heorot is; but,
again like Heorot, they constantly hang on the threat of disaster. As we have seen throughout
history, law and order can all too often fall into chaos and anarchy (example: the Roman
Empire). In fact, both governments and Heorot are nearly or are brought down by an
interesting concept: chaos and individualism.
The embodiment of aforesaid chaos and individualism in Beowulf (as well as Heorot’s
bane) is the monster Grendel. The book states this side of Grendel clearly in lines 105-107,
where it talks about Grendel dwelling “for a time in misery among the banished monsters,
Cain’s clan, whom the creator had condemned as outcasts”. This clearly establishes Grendel as
a symbol of individuality, as well as a symbol of an outcast. This in and of itself contrasts
Grendel to Heorot, which is portrayed as a symbol of fellowship and unity, which is clearly the
opposite of Grendel’s state of existence. In addition to this, Grendel is also stated to be Cain’s
descendent, as seen in the previous quote. When one looks into this, it says that Grendel
“dwelled in misery”. This means that it is possible that Grendel was first rejected by society, and
from that experience, turned to darkness. This is also a tie to the character Unferth, who is
referred to as a “Kinslayer”, for he killed his brothers. This makes him remarkably similar to
Cain, and thus, Grendel, for Cain was declared an outcast after he slew his brother, Abel. Thus,
in a sense, comparing Grendel and Unferth in many ways can serve to help the reader see that
Grendel is almost more a human, given over to bitterness, than a monster. However, Grendel
then allows his bitterness to consume him, which leads to his development of an anticivilizational antagonist. Thus, we then also see him illustrated as a symbol of chaos as the
book speaks of him utterly disrupting society, all out of his own bitterness. This is written in
several passages, of which is in line 121, where it states “the God-cursed brute was creating
havoc: greedy and grim, he grabbed thirty men…”. This shows Grendel utterly disrupting the
mead-hall and peace therein, simply for his own enjoyment. Another example of Grendel caring
only for himself (individualism) is in line 137, where it states that he was “Malignant by nature,
he never showed remorse”. This shows that though Grendel is clearly aware of the destruction
and chaos he has caused, he simply does not care. Thus, Grendel is clearly illustrated not only
as a symbol of individualism, but additionally, as the antagonist of society.
Another villain allegory of Beowulf is Grendel’s mother. However, instead of selfishness,
Grendel’s mother strongly represents the idea of feuding, bloodlust and violence. This is
illustrated in lines 1276-78: “But now his mother had sallied forth on a savage journey, griefracked and ravenous, desperate for revenge.” Grendel’s mother, as illustrated through this, is
entirely focused on repayment for her loss in blood (A.K.A. revenge). She has no regard for the
pain and horror her son had caused for so many years, but rather, she is simply enraged by his
death. This actually role-plays her as another antagonist of society, but this time as a symbol for
sheer violence and feuding. She also attacks Heorot (a symbol of the way violence causes
anarchy, which causes civilization collapse), proving herself another contrast to Heorot and
Beowulf. Just as Heorot represents unity, Grendel’s mother represents disunity, as she only
seeks to continually spill blood, not mend relations. This relates in a deep way to modern times,
with the way violence can shatter a community. In modern times, when someone is murdered,
fear and distrust spread like wildfire through a community, causing utter disunity, which is one
of the primary downfalls of civilization. Grendel’s mother causes this same effect in Heorot, as
we can see in line 1302: There was uproar in Heorot. She had snatched their trophy…”. Thus,
Grendel’s mother in yet another symbol of anti-civilization, personified through violence and
A final representative foe in Beowulf is the Dragon. The Dragon is, in a way, illustrative
of the ultimate destructor of society, as it is he, in the end, who kills Beowulf. The Dragon, in a
strong sense, is an illustration of greed and selfishness. This is spelled out for the reader in lines
2302-2311. This states that the Dragon was in a “pent-up fury” over the theft of his goblet, and
then ventures out in a rage to slake his anger with the blood of the Geats. The Dragon thus
represents an attack on society in his sheer greed. He is so obsessed with what he has that
when anyone disturbs it, he punishes and kills throughout an entire nation. He is a depiction of
the sheer destructive havoc greed can wreak upon civilization. We can see this even in modern
day times. Because of the selfishness and greed of many of the wealthy and prosperous,
thousands, if not millions, die from hunger every year. The Dragon simply personifies this into a
single entity. The Dragon also, in a sense, represents that fact that greed can corrupt and/or
destroy even the best of humankind, as we see in Beowulf’s death. The Dragon, as personified
greed, brings down the best of society, which is represented by Beowulf. Thus, in a sense, the
Dragon not only attacks society with greed, but also, perhaps, represents its ultimate fall.
Finally, we have the positive force that combats all the antagonists of this tale, and acts
as the true protector of society: Beowulf. As it says in lines 3180-3183: “They said that of all the
kings upon the earth he was the man most gracious and fair-minded, kindest to his people and
keenest to win fame.” Beowulf was truly the best society had to offer. He was honorable,
gracious, fair, kind, brave; the list goes on. He is a symbol of elements of humanity, just as the
three antagonists are. However, just as they personify the worst of humanity, so Beowulf
represents the best. He champions society’s causes, be it versus Grendel, the Dragon, or even
the bragging Unferth (lines 529-596). Beowulf also syncs up to many aspects of our modern
society. Just as we have our Grendels and Dragons, so we have our Beowulfs. For example: just
as we now have people who promote anarchy (terrorists) and those who love violence or
hoarding, so we have many who wish to promote good in the world (Mother Teresa, F.D.R.,
ect). Beowulf, in a sense, represents hope above all. He symbolizes that there will always be
those who stand against the darkness of the world, and that they will be there to counter it at
every turn. This could be as simple as someone helping the man who tripped, or as huge as
when Winston Churchill refused to bend to Hitler, even when London was being reduced to a
smoking ruin. This does not, in any way, mean Beowulf is perfect. In fact, by our standards, he
was pretty arrogant and prideful. But that was part of the culture at that time. Thus, Beowulf
can be seen as having achieved perfection in his society. Thus, Beowulf, all in all, represents the
ultimate, prevailing power of heroism and honor.
Finally, as I look back at Beowulf, I see strong elements of both today’s society and
Anglo-Saxon society imprinted on it. The saga literally tells a symbolic tale of the best and the
worst of Anglo-Saxon society. Many things can be taken away from it, but I feel that there is
one thing that stands out from the rest: society is not what makes us; rather, it is we who make
society. Beowulf literally changed his world. He saved both the Geats and the Danes multiple
times, and was the greatest warrior the world had ever known. When the antagonists of society
arrive to destroy it, he fights and destroys them, even at the cost of his own life, in the end.
Though this is all strongly representative of Anglo-Saxon society, it is important to read it, even
in our modern society. For it illustrates that some things translate through the ages. Beowulf
was a hero, no question. And his selfless acts translate even to us, around a 1,000 years later!
Thus, Beowulf can help us understand our society, even as it was written as symbolism for the
Anglo-Saxons. Thus, finally, Beowulf does one thing above all: it represents what makes us
Outstanding work! Kudos!!!