Beowulf Full of Fear

Growing up we’ve been taught that monsters are generally bad. The hero needs to slay the dragon in order to rescue the princess and protect the land. Immediately it’s straight to killing the beast but why violence right away? Getting rid of the problem isn’t always conquering your fear. Beowulf needs to constantly remove these monsters possibly because he is afraid to face himself. He could be his own ultimate monster but distracting himself by going on all these escapades of murder. Never once does he try to speak with Grendel nor the mother. It’s immediately recognized that they are foes and need to be taken care of.

We can often be afraid of what we don’t understand and that can lead to the ultimate miscommunication. Then as a result, what we don’t understand becomes an enemy and they are in the wrong, therefore they need to be removed. In another class of mine, we are learning about the first Europeans coming to the Americas and how genocide occurred specifically because the Native Americans were labelled different to the Europeans. As a result a measure of brutal control and murder was put onto the Native Americans. Beowulf needed to conquer therefore he killed what he was afraid of and did not try to understand and for him that was the only sense of control.

Fear can be a good thing if you can recognize it within yourself and hopefully learn from it. But Beowulf lives life by blood thinking that killing is conquering fear without recognizing that instead he is burying it deeper and deeper with every corpse he slays. It may be hidden but it still remains.

5 thoughts on “Beowulf Full of Fear

  1. I think this is a super interesting idea. Its very classic toxic masculinity to be totally set in an idea, never hear anyone else’s opinion, and then attack anyone who tries to confront you. Perhaps the idea of learning anything about the monsters is so terrifying to Beowulf because on some level he knows that he would recognize some of his own traits within them, Grendel being his violence, Grendel’s mother being his need for revenge, and the dragon being his love of treasure. As poetic as it would be if with killing each of these vices Beowulf was able to overcome them, that is simply not what happens. Part of a quote I pulled for my post was “For a moment,/he felt for his old foes, fen-bound, embarking alone.” Beowulf wasn’t able to address this fear and relation to the monsters until the very end, when it was too late.

  2. This “lack of sympathy” for whatever the “hero” needs to slay is common throughout older stories such as this one. It reminds me of Greek Mythology in which a lot of the characters who are supposed to be viewed as “heroic” and “manly” are actually just huge jerks. I’m not saying Beowulf is the same(or maybe he is depending on who you ask) but I am saying that these “ultimate miscommunications” as you put it are very common in older stories because they are in turn what creates the central conflict of the narrative. Also, I agree that fear of the unknown is a huge factor because fear leads to misunderstandings all the time. To reject what is different simply because you do not understand is exactly what fear does. Great job!

  3. It could be interesting to compare this to the early episode with the Watchman on the shore that first confronts Beowulf and his men when they come to visit Hrothgar. Why is discussion chosen in that instance but not with any of the ‘monsters’? And, related, why do the mourners at the end of the epic not contemplate reaching out to hostile outsiders with dialogue? Diplomacy instead of warfare?

  4. I think this is an interesting idea but I would like to see your evidence of Beowulf being his own worst enemy. I don’t think he kills Grendel and his mother because he’s afraid and doesn’t understand them, I think he does it because others are afraid and he can get some clout, plus he was ordered to do so.

  5. I really love your evaluation of this! I think it also helps to bring in more modern history (Native American genocide) to allow for a true event to bring a deeper understanding to classics topics! I love thinking of Beowulf as a fearful man; it brings a lot to his character for me personally.

Leave a Reply