The Refinement of a Hero in "Beowulf"

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Beowulf is both a great warrior and king. These two aspects of the hero do not just come to Beowulf; Beowulf earns them himself. The development of the character into perfection is seen throughout the poem. Beowulf begins as a young warrior and develops into a heroic king who dies for his people. Through three major battles, Beowulf develops into the heroic king that fights to the end for his people. In the poem, "Beowulf," the development of the character Beowulf from a youthful warrior into an isolated hero then finally a heroic king is marked by the three major battles fought by the warrior.

Beowulf's first fight with Grendel proves that Beowulf is prepared to endure hardships in order to help society. As a warrior, Beowulf must be prepared to fight. As J.R.R. Tolkien suggests in his essay, "Beowulf: The Monster and the Critics," that "In the struggle with Grendel one can as a reader dismiss the certainty of literary experience that the hero will not in fact perish…" Beowulf says, "Fate will often spare a man not yet destined for death, when his courage is good" (500). This line reassures the reader that the outcome of the fight will most likely be a happy one. Beowulf is also reassured by one of his men that if he wins the fight he will have everything he has ever desired. In the battle between Grendel and Beowulf, Grendel sneaks up on Beowulf while he is asleep. Beowulf is awakened and he grabs Grendel to drive him away from him. Grendel realizes that the grasp is stronger than his is and he wishes to get away, but it is too late. Beowulf not only kills Grendel, he rips off his hand, arm, and shoulder. Although Beowulf succeeds in killing Grendel he is not yet a true hero. As Jacqueline Vaught explains in her criticism entitled "Beowulf: The Fight at the Center" the hero must be free of society's hand: …although he attempts to fight Grendel alone and without arms, Beowulf does not fulfill his quest as the hero-precisely because he is still within society, literally inside the walls of Heorot and the circle of his men. As the poem makes clear, no hand, however powerful, that is still connected to the hands of society is free to wield the blow that would conquer the forces threatening that society. Beowulf is prepared to fight for his people, but in order for him to become a hero to his people he must first become an isolated hero. Because Beowulf must leave society, he must go to another county and endure another encounter with a monster.

As Beowulf begins to become a great hero for his people, he begins to become a hero cut off from society. In order for Beowulf to become the hero he must become alienated from society, so that in the end he can be the hero of his people. In the next battle between Beowulf and Grendel's surviving mother, Grendel's mother seeks revenge on Beowulf for the death of her son. Grendel's mother first travels to the land of Beowulf, but he is not there. She instead kills one of Beowulf's most beloved, Eschere. At last Beowulf must travel to the secret land of the unknown killer. His people warn him that the place is dangerous and haunted, but he must go. Beowulf explains to his people that he would rather get back at the person who killed his friend rather than mourn: Do not be sorrowful, wise man! It is better for anyone that he should avenge his friend, rather than mourn greatly. Each of us must await the end of life in this world; let him who can, achieve glory before death; afterwards, when lifeless, that will be best for a noble man (513). This statement from Beowulf exemplifies his courageousness. He would rather die doing something for the good of society rather than be a coward. He knows he must take on the unknown stranger for his people or else more of them will suffer. In this battle he must suffer a much more dramatic fight than the one seen in the previous battle with Grendel. Friederich Klaeber in the essay entitled, "An introduction to Beowulf and...
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