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The society depicted in the poem “Beowulf” depended on two basic characteristics of its people. Loyalty and generosity are the two characteristics that bound this culture together. Throughout the poem, the people must depend on the loyalty and generosity of Beowulf and his warriors to defend them from evil. Society as described in Beowulf, was a very warlike society therefore, if Beowulf and his warriors were not giving of themselves in order to protect their people, the end result might have been drastically different.
In the days of Beowulf the only reason for living was to be a loyal person, even if that meant death. If you were not a loyal person you basically had no reason to live because people would not even recognize you as a normal man. So it seems pretty obvious why most people during this time in society, were very loyal to their society and families. And in being a loyal person, also came giving of yourself.
When the monster Grendel hears of the joy in Heorot and comes down to attack Beowulf’s people the Danes, this is the first time we see loyalty???? When Beowulf hears of what Grendel did to the Heorot and the Danes, he gathers fifteen of his best men across the sea to help. Some critics argue that because of how Beowulf responds to situations such as this, he is full of pride and not loyalty. William Lawrence argues that since Beowulf is so quick to respond to a challenge and never backs down, that he is way to prideful. Lawrence writes that, although Beowulf is the hero of the poem, his eagerness to take a challenge is a symbol of his downfall, pride. However, Beowulf does what he says he will do and so therefore he has a right to brag to others. In this situation when he goes to fight with Grendel, Beowulf asks that he fight the monster alone. He knows that God will decide the outcome, so relying on that, he is loyal to his people by fighting the deadly monster.
While Beowulf is waiting to fight the monster, Unferth appears and challenges Beowulf. Unferth taunts Beowulf about losing past battles in his life, which only provokes Beowulf to brag and boast even more. Beowulf tells Unferth the story of the swimming match and explains that he killed nine sea monsters while out at sea. He also conveniently mentions that he has never heard any stories of Unferth’s bravery. Chase Colins writes about how this instance of Beowulf’s bragging could be conceived as over kill, however he thinks Beowulf is only standing up for himself in the manner that any man would. The fact that Beowulf hasn’t heard any stories of Unferth is a symbol that Unferth was not a loyal man, argues Colins. Which in this society was quite a slap in the face. Beowulf finishes by telling Unferth that, if he were as brave as he claims to be, Grendel would be dead already. This is another instance that Lawrence claims Beowulf is way to prideful. He is basically claiming that he already knows he will kill Grendel without any help. But again, I would argue along with Colins that Beowulf is only defending himself, for being the loyal man that he is to his society. Another critic by the name of James Feldman argues that this section is a test for Beowulf being a newcomer. Feldman writes that he thinks Beowulf did a wonderful job of proving himself in this test. Unferth was taunting Beowulf to see if he was as quick of a thinker as he was a fighter, claims Feldman. If Beowulf would have backed down for some reason, his reputation as a good warrior and loyal man, would have dwindled a lot. Beowulf’s boasting is also an encourager and reminder while he is in battle with Grendel. When Grendel comes to the mead-hall thinking he will enjoy yet another great feast of humans, he finds Beowulf. Realizing that Beowulf was stronger than any other man Grendel tries to flee from him but cannot. At this point in the battle Beowulf remembers what he had said to Unferth and the others in the mead-hall, and continues to hold on tightly to Grendel’s arm. This proves that not only was that situation a test for Beowulf as Feldman argued, but also a constant reminder to him of the loyalty that he has to uphold to his people. Once Beowulf has defeated Grendel, the people of the community sing praises to him and give him many gifts. This is a clear example of how loyalty and generosity balance each other out in this warrior society. Beowulf was very loyal, and in return received many gifts and much recognition from the generous people.
Grendel’s mother wants revenge for her sons’ death, and when the Danes hear of this, again they call upon Beowulf. Beowulf naturally accepts the challenge and goes on his way to fight the battle. Upon arriving to the dank lakes where she lives, Unferth lends Beowulf the sword, Hrunting, which is another symbol of generosity. Beowulf bravely dives into the water to fight Grendel’s mother. Not only does he kill Grendel’s mother with one swing of a sword, but also stabs Grendels’ corpse many times through. One critic argues that in this battle with Grendel’s mother, Beowulf is extremely brave, because the sword given to him by Unferth doesn’t work. He could have easily given up says Lawrence, but he instead looks around to see if anything at all could possibly help him. This is a symbol of Beowulf’s faith also. If he didn’t have any faith, he could have easily thought it was over when Unferth’s sword wouldn’t work.
After all that Beowulf has done for the Dane’s, Hrothgar their leader is very grateful. He gives a whole speech to Beowulf about the responsibility of leadership. He does not focus of the victory of Beowulf’s battles, but instead advises him about his future. He tells Beowulf not to fall into pride. This suggests that contrary to what some critics argue; Beowulf has not been over prideful up to this point. I would argue that Beowulf is simply a well rounded, maturing ruler. The battles and arguments that he endures are comparable to the hardships any growing person must endure in order to become a well-rounded human being. However, two things that Beowulf always sets an example of are generosity and loyalty. Without these two characteristics, Beowulf would be an outcast.