Beowulf is one of the oldest existing poems in the English Language. Beowulf is an Anglo-Saxon epic poem, which portrays a story of an epic hero destined to defeat a ferocious monster in order to save a kingdom from destruction and death. The major theme in this epic was the theme of good versus evil. The theme of good versus evil was portrayed through the people and things that represented good and evil, which helped portray the theme throughout that novel, and explained the overall effect of this theme on the poem as a piece of literature.
There are many symbols that represent good in Beowulf. Beowulf himself is a symbol of good in this epic. Beowulf is tamed and civilized which are the characteristics of goodness and purity. First off, Beowulf is pure and shows this before his battle when he removes his armor, and vows not to use a weapon to defeat Grendel. Defeating Grendel, he shows that man, without armor and weapons, can defeat evil in any form including that of his enemy Grendel. This serves as a symbol of Beowulf’s Goodness. Another symbol of goodness is light. Light symbolizes day and rejoicing. When light, such as the sun and moon, are showing it gives people a sense of comfort and they don t seem to be scared of daylight. In connection with light, words like shining and gleaming also prove to show goodness in this epic. These symbols can be shown as good in this excerpt: In the lap of their shining ship, lined with gleaming armor, going safely in that oak-hard boat to where their hearts took them. Human civilization, in the form of heroic warriors, is often associated with light: the halls are illuminated with rejoicing and treasure. This is shown in this excerpt: “How many times have my men, sworn to stay after dark and stem that horror with a sweep of their swords. And then, in the morning, this mead-hall glittering, with new light would be drenched with blood, the benches, stained red, the floors, all wet from that fiend’s savage assault-and my soldiers would be fewer still death taking more and more.” In this description of Herot after Grendel’s massacres, Hrothgar describes the mead-hall as “glittering, with new light which would be drenched with blood. Just like light symbolizes good, darkness symbolizes evil in Beowulf. Grendel’s lair is dark and gray, and he only hunts at night, in darkness. Darkness and night is associated with evil and Grendel’s bloody attacks. Hrothgar’s warriors face the darkness and the evil, but when the light of day comes, only their blood is there. This shows that Grendel, the monster whose name strikes terror to the people of Herot, is also a symbol of evil. This is shown in this excerpt: Grendel was spawned in that slime, conceived by a pair of those monsters born Of Cain, murderous creatures banished By God, punished forever for the crime Of Abel s death. The Almighty drove those demons out, and their exile was bitter, Shut away from men; they split into a thousand forms of evil–spirits and fiends, goblins, monsters, giants, a brood forever opposing the Lord s Will, and again and again defeated. Another monster associated with evil was the dragon. In the end Beowulf had to fight one last battle and it was with this dragon. The dragon blew breaths of fire upon Beowulf as Beowulf was trying to shelter himself with his shield. But as his shield was melting, the dragon injected poison into Beowulf s neck, which injected him with poison, thus killing Beowulf. So the last battle came down to Good, which was Beowulf, versus Evil, which was the dragon.
The theme of good versus evil is portrayed throughout the entire epic. In the beginning there was Herot, which was good, and Grendel, which was evil. When Grendel killed most of the warriors in Herot, there was little good left. But when Beowulf came to Herot there was more goodness. So when Grendel attacked Herot that night, it was Beowulf and Grendel fighting it off. In the end it was evil which died. Beowulf managed to kill Grendel by tearing off his arm. But another evil lurked the murky swamps. It was Grendel s mother who was much more evil than her son, Grendel. So Beowulf, still feeling triumphant about killing Grendel, set off for Grendel s mother. Thus the theme of good versus evil comes up again. The good Beowulf was traveling down to the evil Grendel s mother, who was ready to avenge her son s death. After the battle, it was good who overcame evil again. However, the next battle wouldn t be so easy. When a stranger had taken a chastise from a dragon s liar to make amends with Beowulf, whose is now a king, the evil dragon was furious. He went to Beowulf s kingdom and breathed fire upon it. Thus, Beowulf was now ready for yet another battle with death. Therefore, this symbolized another good versus evil battle. Wiglaf showed goodness by helping Beowulf defeat the dragon when the others would not. But then the dragon showed equal evil when he shot poison through Beowulf s net. So, in the end of this final battle, it was good and evil that perished. However, Wiglaf took over the kingdom and good once again prevailed.
The overall effect this theme had on the poem as a piece of literature was by Beowulf represented good and Grendel represented evil. Beowulf had killed Grendel when Grendel had attacked Hrothgar s kingdom. After he killed Grendel he had to kill Grendel s mother too, who was also evil. So he set out to the murky swamps to kill Grendel s mother. After he swam for a whole day to find Grendel s mother he defeated her. Then all of the people in the kingdom of Herot danced, feasted, and rejoiced for the rest of the night. Beowulf was then seen as a hero and was given the throne to be the king of Geatland. Everything went well for fifty years, until a stranger stole a chastise from a dragon s lair. The dragon then destroyed Beowulf s kingdom. As revenge Beowulf set out to kill the dragon. As a result, he killed the dragon but also died in the process. Wiglaf, a fearless warrior who helped Beowulf kill the dragon, was then given the throne and the kingdom was good again. Thus, the overall effect of good versus evil in the epic poem was to show that Beowulf was a good hero and to show that goodness will always prevail no matter what obstacles you will have to overcome.
In Beowulf, the theme of good versus evil was used widely throughout the epic poem. Beowulf was seen as a good hero, and light was seen as a symbol of good. Grendel was seen as an evil monster that brought terror to Herot, and darkness was seen as a symbol of something evil lurking nearby. The theme of good versus evil was portrayed widely throughout the epic poem during the battles between Beowulf and Grendel, Beowulf and Grendel s mother, and Beowulf and the dragon. The theme of good versus evil had an overall effect on the epic poem by implying that no matter how much evil is in the world, it can always be overcome by goodness. This was portrayed when Beowulf defeated the dragon, and even though he was also killed, Wiglaf carried on the goodness as he had done before. Therefore, the good overcame the evil.