Characteristics of Heroism: Beowulf vs. Modern
Heroism is a term not often used in modern society but is the theme for many historic novels and
epics such as Beowulf. The Webster Dictionary describes heroism as “courageous action.” While the actual term
is rarely used in daily conversations, there have been several heroic episodes in the last century that may be
compared with those found in literature.
The world was a very different place in 1942 when the United States entered World War II. After
the Japanese attacked Pear Harbor, every American citizen desired to do their part to help defend their country.
Many battles were fought on foreign soil with heroes living and dying.
One of the pivotal battles for the Allied troops against Adolf Hitler was the battle of Normandy
on June 6th, 1944. American, British, and Canadian troops crossed the English Channel and with much bloodshed
and death, stormed the beaches of Normandy in an all-day battle. This victory gave the Allies a much needed
foothold on the shores of France.
Everyone who serves in war maybe considered heroes but “heroic” is not always a definition of soldiers.
On the beaches of Normandy, however, heroes were made. The troops, while trying to go ashore undetected, were
not successful and many died before even reaching land. Those men who perished along with those who returned
home are considered heroes because they ran straight into the face of danger.
Beowulf landed on the shores of Herot ready to assist in the destruction of the monster that was terrorizing
the kingdom. When he landed he was met by Hrothgar's lieutenant. “Whose soldiers are you...?” (152) asked
the lieutenant, “Speak, say exactly who you are, and from where, and why.” (171). Beowulf, their leader, answered
“We are Geats... And we have come seeking your prince... only in friendship...” (174-181). He was taken to
the throne of Hrothgar where he told the king of his plan, “Now Grendel and I are called together.” (254).
He planned to kill Grendel and rescue the kingdom from the terror Grendel caused. He later killed Grendel's mother,
and fifty years later, killed a dragon in his own kingdom.
One similarity between the Battle of Normandy and the arrival of Beowulf is that the heroes came by
boat. They each went to a foreign land to aid people from monsters (Hitler and Grendel). Both episodes had climatic
results: Normandy gave the Allies a foothold in France and Beowulf gained the trust of Hrothgar and killed Grendel.
The Allied forces were detected and met with an unfriendly, even life threatening, welcome. While
Beowulf experienced a probing welcome, his nor his troops' lives were endangered. The Allied forces consisted
of three different countries but Beowulf brought only his countrymen to Herot.
A more recent event which affected all of the United States and much of the world was the terrorist attacks
on New York City and Washington DC on September 11, 2001. The realization that the World Trade Center had
been hit by a plane was too much for many to bear but when the first tower collapsed, the nightmare became all too
true. While many ran from the gruesome sight that was Manhattan, hundreds of police officers, firefighters, and
rescue teams ran toward the disaster and danger. They realized their job was to help the people that were trapped
inside the falling towers and those suffering in the streets whom they had never met. Most of the heroes ran into the
falling building, never to return, simply because it was their duty to their country and city. They did not expect any
rewards or payment for their acts of heroism.
Beowulf, while he wanted slay to Grendel in order to help the kingdom of Herot, was more interested in
proving that he was by-far a greater hero than anyone had ever seen. He tells King Hrothgar “My people have said
that the wisest, most...
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