Religion Throughout British Literature

Topics: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Christianity, Knights of the Round Table Pages: 5 (2205 words) Published: June 8, 2007
With all the books read in class this year, there has been some type of influence on the way each story was written. From Beowulf to Paradise Lost, there have been many, mostly religious, persuasions in the style and approach to writing of the novel. These influences, whether they're religious or cultural or psychological, have a deep impact on the story and are reflective of a literary time period. The differences in each story show the changes in the culture, religion, or the way people thought. The purpose of the sequential order of the stories is to show how man has changed his ways, how he has failed and how he has redeemed himself. The first piece of literature to be analyzed is Beowulf, which was written in approximately the late 800's A.D. Now, the author of Beowulf who is unknown to this day, "was believed to be a Christian. Beowulf reflects well-established Christian traditions" (Abrams 29). And there are many references in the epic poem that suggest Christian beliefs. Beowulf only slightly mentions the pagan beliefs. For example, the author refers to the warriors as pagan warriors, and revenge and battle are pagan oriented. Other than that, the entire poem is all based upon Christian beliefs. In the story, it is stated that Grendel, the flesh devouring, man-eating brute, is a descendant of Cain, the first man to slay his own kind. The story of Cain and how he killed his brother is a Christian belief. Later in Beowulf, Beowulf, the hero, and Hrothgar, Beowulf's king, are referred to as being monotheistic (Abrams 30), which means believing in only one god. This a Christian value. Throughout the story, Beowulf is referred to as being supernatural. He is just that. This is a pagan idea. But the Danes, the victims of Grendel's attacks, pray to God for help. This is a Christian practice. At the end of the poem, Beowulf sacrifices himself to save his people. He is responsible for defending his countrymen; and to do so, he must slay a dragon. At an old age, he heroically steps up to the challenge. He boldly conquered his opponent, but not before his foe laid a deadly blow into him. Beowulf had executed the dragon, and the dragon snatched Beowulf's life. Beowulf surrendered his life to liberate his people from a terrifying menace. This sacrifice is very similar to the way Jesus Christ sacrificed his life to save the people of the world from the horrific sins. His own followers had persecuted and crucified him. In Beowulf's case his people had abused the privilege of having a supernatural ruler with superhuman strength; and they constantly sent him to bail them out of crisis. This is a vague representation of the religious influence. After Beowulf's life was taken, his kingdom laid him to rest. His funeral was very immaculate. The corpse was laid upon a raised wooden platform, called a pyre, heavily decorated with warrior's chain mail and helmets. It was then set ablaze. The fire was "the hugest of all funeral fires." The ceremony was astonishing and magnificent. This type of funeral is a pagan ritual. The supernatural implication is also of pagan beliefs. In the middle of the story, Beowulf must fight a monster, known as Grendel's Mother. This beast lives in a nearby swamp. To fight her, Beowulf must dive into the fiend infested water and fight her, all while holding his breath. Beowulf's supernatural strength, supernatural physical ability, and the fact that there are monsters in this poem show the paganistic indications left by the author, in spite of his apparent Christianity. These examples all prove that there is a religious influence on this piece of literature. In tracing literary influence, the next story is "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight". This story was written in about 1375-1400 A.D. and the author is unknown. "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" indicates and reflects how Christian values, like courage, honesty, chivalry, and loyalty, should be followed. In the story, a group of noble knights sit around a...
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