The Hero vs Villian Dichotomy in Beowulf

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Casey Kerins
AP English Literature
10/1/12
In the Epic Beowulf, composed in the 8th century, the reader follows the protagonist, Beowulf, on a series of adventures to defeat three key monsters. This old English poem uses a series of motifs to help develop its themes, known as dichotomies. Dichotomies, defined as “opposites on the same spectrum,” range from good and evil to young and old, light and dark to Christianity and paganism. All these dichotomies are represented clearly in the text; however the concept of Heroes and Villains can be pulled in many different directions. Although Beowulf is always the hero, it is questionable as to if his three opponents are simply “villains.”

In the first of Beowulf’s three battles, he fights Grendel, an “evil creature…full of envy and anger” (13). Grendel, a cursed descendent of Cain who lived in the darkness, attacked the people out of anger and jealousy, for they were constantly rejoicing and celebrating. When Beowulf heard of Grendel’s murders and attacks, he set out to avenge the Danes. Although Grendel is protected by “his sorceries,” Beowulf is victorious in defeating him by brutally pulling Grendel’s arm from his socket, fatally wounding him.

In this battle, Grendel is very obviously the villain, and Beowulf the triumphant hero. According to the text, Grendel was a bloodthirsty and evil creature who enjoyed the pain and suffering of others; in no way can the creature be redeemed. The poem says, “then [Grendel’s] heart laughed, for the savage beast was in the mood to sever each soul’s life from its body before daybreak as he saw this opportunity to sate his slaughterous appetite” (33). Grendel is an evil creature, and his actions are for selfish and personal reasons. Beowulf, on the other hand, is the Hero, who fights for the good of others, and defends the helpless. Although he does desire glory, Beowulf gives thanks to God always for helping his prevail.

The second battle is between Beowulf, again, and...
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