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Essay: Beowulf expresses, supports and challenges aspects of identity and nationality

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  • Subject area(s): Literature essays
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  • Published: 21 January 2022*
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  • Words: 1,248 (approx)
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  • Tags: Beowulf essays

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In early English literature, Beowulf is one of the most prominent epic poems to date and is one of the earliest poems depicted in the European vernacular. The original manuscript contains over 3,000 lines of early Anglo-Saxon English. The manuscript was badly damaged due to a fire which had burned down a house in London but the story itself survived. Although it did not reach fame until much after it was written, Beowulf is still a widely popular work that is said to connect its’ story with the creation of the country of England. Beowulf poet expresses themes of nationality and identity concepts by connecting the qualities of a nation with the qualities of the characters in Beowulf. These qualities are a good leader, a common enemy, and an overcoming of an obstacle.
As an eponymous character of the Anglo-Saxon poem, Beowulf’s qualities of a good leader are manifest in various instances. Hrothgar, a wise and aged ruler of the Danes issues a speech which indicates the virtues of a good leader. He speaks on the qualities and iniquities of great leaders in the political field, including kindness, generosity and boastfulness. Beowulf is attributed with these qualities which enhances his ability to adhere to people’s demands. Even though these qualities do not meet the desirable virtues of a man in the common world, they embody a good leader.
Beowulf also portrays the quality of self-regard. This quality is indicative of his dedication in ensuring that the demands of the people are met. Self-regard further serves as a promise to the people. The promise is founded on the impression that Beowulf will provide for all the needs of the people. In addition, he will foster protection for the nation thus creating order Hrothgar further justifies that Beowulf’s pompous character stances as a mechanism of igniting happiness among the Geats. “I will stand by my word make good my promises. To your Geat-friends now will make you come with counsel courage for their hearts through long comfort years” (Heaney). The Geats exhibit a need for an individual whom they can bestow their beliefs. A character with high self-esteem such as Beowulf has a lot of belief in himself which translates to the Geats.
In any nationality, the masses are always in dire need of a person whom can render them assurance for greatness in the future. This assurance should emanate from the personal character. The character should entail a flaunting virtue which ignites the personal self-esteem. In the poem, the people’s assurance was retrieved in Beowulf. Beowulf’s assurance is depicted in his speech about the Dragon. In the speech, the people are reassured that the Dragon will be dealt with which creates a sense of confidence within the people fighting. “I lived in my youth through hard war-moments— now here I am ready battle weary king battered with winters for final glory-time if that grim hall burner will come to meet me from his mound of gold” (Heaney). In addition, Beowulf’s reassurance to the people seeks to enhance the people’s understanding that he can thrive in his role of defeating the enemies. In this case, Beowulf’s assurance is dictated by the people. The people expect him to kill the dragon as part of his leadership obligation. In this instance, the leadership quality of self-centeredness models him as a supreme leader in the face of Hrothgar. Moreover, his idyllic features make him an advent of the concepts of nationality and unity.
Second, the impression of nationality and unity is expressed by the presence of a common enemy. These enemies affect the unity of the Geats people since they intend to execute their evil doctrines. In the poem, the main enemies are Grendel and Grendel’s mother. Grendel is a demon which descended from Cain. The demon seeks to prey on Hrothgar’s warriors in the King’s mead-hall. Grendel suitably conforms to the vengeance code which governs the world of the poem. The dejected and callous attribute of the demon is due to God’s punishment over the murder of Abel by Cain. Grendel’s mother also poses as a common enemy of the Geats people. In comparison to Grendel, Grendel’s mother exhibits fewer qualities of the human construct. Her deviant act of destroying the King’s mead-hall is triggered by human motivation. The motivation reiterates on her desire for revenge. These common enemies are evident in the poem with a solid objective of altering the unification of the Geats people. The enemies indicate the presence of certain identities in a nationality whose fate is sidelined with undertaking vengeful acts.
Finally, the constructs of unity and nationality are depicted by the unity of the community in fighting the community enemies. The fight against Grendel sought the intervention of Beowulf. The prowling monster had laid its attacks on the Danes. Due to his mutual relationship with the Danes, Beowulf visited the region to tender his support. In the Danes, he was provided with the necessary information by King Hrothgar in regards to the whereabouts of Grendel. This act indicated the unity of the two regions in fighting a common enemy. As a warrior, he confronted the monster evoking mortal wounds. In this regard, Beowulf used his braveness and courage to illustrate the strength of his nationality. Moreover, the prevalence of the actions of Grendel’s mother triggered King Hrothgar to seek the services of Beowulf. This aspect depicted the unity that was evident between the Danes and Geats. The unity was fostered by the common act of fighting the two enemies to avoid the manifestation of their vengeful desires.
In the poem, the anonymous poet is expressive of a series of identities. Beowulf establishes himself as a great warrior who eventually transforms into a king in the Anglo-Saxon world. The growth of Beowulf to a king is depicted by a combination of his action and gifts to the followers. In this regard, the royal identity of a king is unraveled. “he lay friendless, a foundling, fate repaid him: for he waxed under welkin, in wealth he throve, till before him the folk, both far and near, who house by the whale-path, heard his mandate, gave him gifts: a good king he!” (Heaney). His actions as a great warrior depict the heroic identity. In the poem, Beowulf is imputed with heroic actions such as tearing off the arm of the monster.
In addition, the poem depicts the presence of a Christian identity. The identity is manifest in Beowulf who pursues vengeance for enemies. These enemies exhibit forces of and darkness. Beowulf’s battles are not grounded on retaliating to other men. His battle is focused on eliminating evil monsters such as Grendel who are adversaries of the entire community. In this regard, the poem poses as Christian allegory which praises Beowulf for his good acts. In the fight against the monsters, Beowulf emerges as a source of light and goodness. His sacrificial death in the end brands him as a champion who protects the society. Woe for that man who in harm and hatred hales his soul to fiery embraces nor favor nor change awaits he ever. But well for him that after death-day may draw to his Lord, and friendship find in the Father’s arms! (Heaney). Indeed, the poem coherently expresses, supports and challenges the aspects of identity and nationality, since they play a significant role in the human living.

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