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The epic poem Beowulf is a perfect reflection of the ideas and values of Anglo-Saxon society. The setting is on a warrior type of society where leaders are viewed as demi-gods and they would do everything to command respect. Beowulf illuminates the personification of mans' characteristics of raw and deadly emotions like envy, pride, greed and feelings of immortality through its characters. In my own perspective the theme of Beowulf is heroism as apperception of personal glory. This theme is clearly brought from the way the characters try to do things that are super human as a show of might. Having said that, I would like to agree with J.R.R Tolken on his suggestion that the overriding theme in Beowulf poem is "man alien in a hostile world, engaged in a struggle which he cannot win." As noted above, the main protagonists in Beowulf are embroiled in a vicious circle of struggle for the sake of their personal egos. The theme as Tolken argued, is illustrated more vividly by the main protagonist of the story, Beowulf and Grandel.
Beowulf is constantly engaged in things that are aimed at feeding his ego as seen in the way he is highly praised for his good performance at war. Beowulf is predominantly characterized by his feats of courage and strength. The concept of engaging in a constant battle that you cannot win is illuminated in the way Beowulf encounters with evil on three separate incidences (Grandel, Grandel's mother and the Dragon). While Beowulf strived to achieve epic status in his society and he would jump into battle without understanding the dangers that lay ahead as stated, "it is not his life he thinks of. He puts his welfare in a lower priority to others." Beowulf's attempts to fight with evil which in real world can be described as supernatural represents the epitome of Token's theme as these heroic aspects of Beowulf are bound to fail anyway. These are the struggles that Tolken sees that the characters can not win. While the author depicts Beowulf as a man of pride and fame, it's this pride that leads to his death despite the fact that culturally this was well appreciated. Man can sometimes engage in struggles that he is bound to loose just because of personal ego, this fact is brought out in the poem when Beowulf decides to engage in a fight with the Dragon a character that represents evil. This just shows how Beowulf could do anything, and it's this overestimating of his strength that leads to his death. The death of Beowulf illustrates how man can be alien in a hostile world and still engage in a struggle that he cannot win (Michael, 134-7).
The alienation depicted in Beowulf is significantly different from modern alienation especially in relation to choice. Whereas modernist alienation is a characteristic of the circumstances within a given environment or events beyond human control, a reflection of the belief in the supernatural power, the alienation in Beowulf is characterized by motive and activity. This alienation is illustrated when Beowulf asserts that, "my people supported my resolve to come here to you [Hrothar]....and I mean to be a match for Grendel, settle the outcome in single combat." Throughout the poem, the main protagonist, Beowulf always makes choices that though are dangerous for him, but will be able to guarantee his immortality in the view of his people. This alienates Beowulf from the reality of life making him to engage in struggles that he can not win. Whereas alienation in the modern society is due to circumstances beyond human control, alienation for Beowulf is influenced by cultural dogmas and pressure (The British Library, 20-22). This cultural and peer pressure comes out when Hrothgar entices Beowulf to kill Grendel's mother as retribution for the demise of Aeschere, "seek it [Grendel's mother] if you dare. I will compensate you...with lavish wealth if you come back." The epic nature of Beowulf and his colossal actions thrust him into an island of his own, thus alienating him from the rest. In modern alienation, people are faced with situations beyond their control and they can only depend on the supernatural power. There is little one is able to do, while the alienation in Beowulf is characterized by peer pressure and the struggle to achieve an epic status in society. The main characters in Beowulf are consistently engaged in fights to protect their people. It is because of this that the main protagonist, Beowulf engages in a fight with an evil Dragon which leads to his death, (Kiernan, 56-57)
Further alienation is exhibited by the character Grendel. The inhuman deeds that Grendel engages in order to display his might to his people alienate him from the rest of his peers. Grendel struggles towards a radical individuality. He strives to reach an epic status in society leaving behind the 'common' in the process. I would like to agree with the argument that Grendel is a more plausible alienated character because of his actions and combative lifestyles in total disregard of the fact that he is mortal and could also die some day. This fact is illustrated when Grendel attacks Beowulf and not only does he kill but also eats one of Beowulfs men. This show of bravery is a clear demonstration of how alienation in the literature is different from the modern alienation, (Grendel's, 34).
Grendel is a more plausible alienated character because, first he came to attack Heorot because he was not welcomed the mead-hall (drinking hall). Secondly Grendel was enraged by the noise of the partying and revelry which made him launch regular raids, attacking at night and killing the King's greatest warriors. The partying noise alienated Grendel thus leading to attacks.
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