Section Four: Beowulf Battles Grendel’s Mother

After a dozen years of terror by Grendel, the Danes believe that they are finally safe and at peace. They retire to sleep in Heorot, confident that they will finally be safe from the monster. Until this point in the tale, Grendel has been mentioned as a solitary creature. The poem has not focused on his origin, other than to describe him as a descendant of Cain. Furthermore, the poem has highlighted his feelings of alienation and solitude, leading one to the conclusion that he is alone in the world. However, Grendel is not alone in the world; his mother not only lives, but is aware that her son has died, and comes to Heorot intent upon revenge.

The character of Grendel’s mother is unique to the poem. In many ways, she is the most fully realized of any of the poem’s female characters, but in other ways she is completely marginalized. For example, she is never named in the poem, simply referred to as Grendel’s mother. However, as many mothers realize, this may be sufficient to describe her role. While she is a monster just like her son, in many respects she is an archetypal mother. Someone has hurt her son, and she will go to great lengths to avenge him.

Grendel’s mother travels up from the swamp and comes to the hall. She has come for her son’s claw, which she is able to retrieve. She has also come for revenge. This motivation is one of the most human emotions, and if it was difficult to conceive of Grendel as a one-dimensional villain, it is even more difficult to view his mother as a total villain. Furthermore, Grendel’s mother lacks his extra strength. She is willing to confront an entire hall full of warriors in order to avenge her son’s death, showing the depth of her maternal devotion. There is no real reason why the warriors would be unable to defeat this unarmed monster’s mother, but they do not harm her. In fact, she is able to take one of the warriors hostage as she leaves the hall.

What is interesting is that Beowulf does not simply follow after Grendel’s mother and attempt to defeat her....

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