Story Symbols and Themes

Themes are the central topics or messages that the author is trying to convey.

Because Beowulf combines traditional Germanic ideas of heroism with the more modern Christian ethics of the poet who composed the poem, it can sometimes appear as if the themes in the novel compete with one another. However, there are several universal ideas that recur in the novel.


Beowulf is a brave warrior who becomes a wise king, and both of these components are central to the man Beowulf is and how that man helps protect Geatland from outsiders. However, what the poem makes clear is that Beowulf would be nothing without his reputation. One part of that relationship was family lineage. A large part of the poem concentrates on men establishing their identities for other men. When Beowulf first comes to Denmark, he must introduce himself. He is judged not only on his accomplishments, but also on his father’s history. In fact, he comes to Hrothgar’s aid because of the relationship between Hrothgar and his father and a pre-existing debt resulting from that relationship. Therefore, Beowulf is elevated because of his father’s name, but he is also obligated because of his father’s name; the reputational impact of the name goes in both directions. Had he failed to come to Hrothgar’s aid after Hrothgar had helped his uncle, that would have created a negative mark against Beowulf’s reputation.

While part of a man’s reputation was dependent upon his kinship relationships, another part of the relationship was created by the man during his lifetime and reflected his own behavior. Beowulf established a relationship as an able and fierce warrior from a very young age. Moreover, it was not considered inappropriate for him to boast about his reputation. Instead, it was expected for him to tell about his accomplishments. Those accomplishments helped increase confidence that he would be able to tackle his next goal. However, the accomplishments also seemed to serve as a form of immortality;...

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Essays About Beowulf