Violence in Beowulf

Violence in Beowulf - Mallory Carlson Professor Brown ENGL...

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Mallory Carlson Professor Brown ENGL 41 1 October 2006 Themes of Violence in Beowulf The importance of violence in the old Germanic and Christian cultures carries with it an enormous impact upon the understanding of character and theme in the epic poem, Beowulf . The author purposely intertwines moral values derived from Christianity with traditional pagan allusions and characters. One common theme that transcends both Christian and pagan beliefs is violence. Although both belief systems ultimately believe in goodness and peace (generally speaking), violence acts as the medium through which this goodness is attained. Such violence can be seen in Jesus’ painful crucifixion (which leads to redemption / purification) and the ability of warrior-like pagan gods to establish peace by overcoming forces of evil through violence (which leads to peace). Despite religious affiliation, both ways of believing in the divine basically define goodness and peace as the degree to which an evil-doer is overcome; the best way for a human to exterminate a natural or supernatural force of evil is ultimately through acts of violence. The author of Beowulf relies on contrasts to define the differences between good and evil. The heavy use of textual contrasts (Danes vs. Geats, pagan vs. Christian, hero vs. monster, etc.), aids in the ability to make sense of both the Christian and pagan cultures. These contrasts are meant to identify the inherent dichotomy between what is good and what is evil in light of a strongly Christian ethos. For instance, when Beowulf fights Grendel’s mother (hero vs. monster), the author allows the reader to know who has won the battle before the action has even taken place. The text asserts that “holy God decides the victory” and then right after, implying that God is fighting for Beowulf,
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claims “it was easy for the Lord, the Ruler of Heaven, to redress the balance once Beowulf got back up on his feet” (1553-6). If God (who is inherently good and eternally right) decides a heroic victory and furthermore decides to side with a particular individual, then it can generally be assumed that God’s ‘chosen’ side is right by divine decision. Interestingly enough, we see in Milton’s
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Violence in Beowulf - Mallory Carlson Professor Brown ENGL...

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