Grendel and Beowulf Heroism

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Intentions and Heroism

A building is ablaze and a crowd of people stare helplessly from the streets, listening to screams coming from within. A single person runs in to rescues whomever he or she can find. Whether or not that person emerges with a child in their arms, empty handed, or not at all, does nothing to alter our society's perception of their heroism. Today's society would classify such an action as heroic, regardless of outcome, for one reason: intentions. During Anglo-Saxton times the interpretation of such an act, based on the tale Beowulf, would not be so understanding of what was intended, but rather of the outcome. If one perished and failed in an attempt of such a heroic act words like weakness might arise. It is here that the clash of what a hero is occurs between the Anglo-Saxton tale Beowulf and John Gardner's Grendel. Beowulf in Beowulf is a hero for he defeats evil and restores order to and for the common people. Unferth in Grendel however is unsuccessful in his campaign against evil, but like the man who emerges empty handed he is by no means any less of a hero. For heroism, as demonstrated in the Anglo-Saxton tale Beowulf, is altered in Gardner's Grendel to convey the idea that intentions define a hero as opposed to actions. Beowulf is a classic hero in Beowulf for he fits the epitomized romantic mold so perfectly. His appearance is that of a hero, he is large, muscular, and intimidating. His intentions are also in the right place, he wishes to free Hrothgar's people from the evil that is Grendel. He is a mature man, one who in the face of belittlement responds respectably and effectively. "Then up spoke Unferth…"Are you that Beowulf who with Breca swam on the broad sea-swell struggling together proud wave-wrestlers wagering your lives with reckless boasting risking for praise deep water-death?..." Beowulf answered…"and you were never known for such deeds nothing to brag of renowned as you are for killing your brothers…" (p.17-18...
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