Elements of Evil in Beowulf

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In times before printed books were common, stories and poems were passed from generation to generation by word of mouth. From such oral traditions come great epics such as England's heroic epic, Beowulf. In Beowulf, the monster Grendel serves as the evil character acting against the poem's hero, as shown by his unnatural strength, beast-like qualities, and alienation from society.

One of the first responses from a reader of Beowulf is their surprise at Grendel's unnatural strength, one quality marking him as an evil character. His great strength is shown first in his ability to carry enormous amounts of weight. There occur several instances in the story where Grendel lifts great amounts of weight. In Grendel's first raid of Herot, a great mead-hall, "he snatched up thirty men, smashed them . . . and ran out with their bodies to his lair" (ll. 59-62). This amount of weight equals nearly 5,000 pounds; a feat that no normal man (or creature) could accomplish. In addition to his ability to lift huge amounts of weight, Grendel's unnatural strength appears in his merciless killing of humans. He proficiently tears his victims apart before devouring them. Moments before the monster's demise, Grendel grabs a sleeping Geat and "ripped him apart, cut his body to bits with powerful jaws" (ll. 393-394). Only a force of evil could accomplish an act so gruesome, with such facility. One earmark of an epic evil character is their unnatural strength, and Grendel certainly fits the bill for Beowulf.

Studying Beowulf a bit more closely, Grendel's distinction as the poem's evil character becomes more prominent upon the discovery of his beast-like qualities. Grendel's description leads the reader to believe he is less human, and more animalistic, than the other characters. Repeatedly throughout the poem, the diction surrounding Grendel leads to the picture of a terrible animal; one so horrifying only the imagination could create it. The first description of Grendel...
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