Beowulf: Cultural Criticism
Beowulf: Cultural criticism The epic poem “Beowulf” is a representation of how mankind has adopted a hypocritical mindset that allows themselves to kill and commit evil, while at the same time persecuting other groups for doing the same. Throughout the text itself, the Danes are known as a warrior race that controls and conquers other nations through violence and destruction, but they tell themselves that it is for the greater good and god has given them the right to do so. Though this is a fictional epic, it relates very closely to the history of the Roman Empire.
They too dominated those around them with an iron fist, yet it alright because they believed they stood for God and held strong in the beliefs of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, just as Beowulf and the Danes believed that God had given them the right to conquer others. The culture of the Anglo-Saxon’s and Roman’s have since been lost to the sands of time in America’s very modern and technological society, but we can still see their influence all around us in our everyday lives.
The culture of the Dane’s influenced Beowulf in how he believed a warrior should live and in the end this shaped the entire poem itself. Throughout the epic, the Danes demonized the character Grendel, they called him a; monster, creature, evil, etc. “Suddenly then the God-cursed brute was creating havoc: greedy and grim, he grabbed thirty men from their resting places and rushed to his lair, flushed up and inflamed from the raid, blundering back with the butchered corpses. (Lines 120-125) Many of their people believed he was evil because Grendel would come and murder senselessly without any remorse, the irony here is that the Danes did exactly the same thing to other nations and societies. They too would go and conquer for the sake of power and riches, just as this “creature” would come to feed and enjoyed the thrill of killing. The only difference between the two, other than appearance, is that the Danes believe that God had given them the right or permission to do so because they honored him, where clearly Grendel did not.
Beowulf was able to kill Grendel because he felt he had this God given right, but what really is the difference between them, shouldn’t a people who believe in a great and powerful higher being be living in a manner that reflects their respect for him instead of using that higher being as an excuse to do things they believe to be evil. It is a completely hypocritical belief system, and unfortunately, societies across the globe have come to use religion or moral systems in this manner.
Some cultures that have existed in the past and had a likeminded mentality as the Beowulf and the Dane’s culture were the Romans. They were a great and powerful empire who wanted to control the world and would stop at nothing to achieve it. They wiped out entire communities of Germanic tribes; they instituted torture and did vile things to other human beings, and were also responsible for mass persecution against the Jews. All of these acts against their humanity however were, over looked, because they called themselves “The Holy Roman Empire”.
They were a catholic civilization, and they too used their faith to give themselves the authority to take life from another human being just like the Danes did. The epic poem “Beowulf” is a representation of how we as human beings have adopted this hypocritical way of thinking over time that demonizes those who are different then us, and then allows us to destroy them. It is a way of thinking that has infected our community and our culture for thousands of years and still does so today; it is also what allows the warrior race of the Danes who glorify battle and combat to be possible.
In all honesty, Beowulf is the real antagonist of the poem because he only fights for himself, so that he will be known throughout the ages, so that he can have extreme wealth and live without worry, and so he can feel as if he is more than just a man, to feel as if he was a god. This mindset or type of culture has not only plagued the past however, it is also very present in our everyday life as Americans. It is in many aspects of our society, weather that is in law enforcement, capital punishment, or the armed forces.
Just as we discussed in class, if a police officer shoots and kills a criminal he is rewarded and given an accommodation, but if a criminal kills a police officer the entire country feels sorrow for him and his family and the criminal is then hunted down and put down like an animal. There is no difference between the two, in both scenarios either one or the other kill each other, what is different, and where the problem lies, is in societies perception of the two, and why it is understandable if a criminal dies, but unimaginably sad in an officer falls in the line of duty.
This reality in our society is very close to how in the poem, there is no remorse shed for Grendel when he is slain, but there is grieving and sadness for the warriors he killed. The examples of hypocrisy in our society don’t stop there however; possibly one of the most flawed systems in our country is capital punishment. Our government has decided to show criminals that it is wrong to kill another person by killing anyone who is convicted of doing so.
The government as a whole is much larger and more powerful than any one individual, therefore, just because they are stronger they are able to kill human beings and still be looked at as heroes. In the poem it reads, “Whichever one death falls must deem it a just judgment by God. ” (Lines 440-441), but that is not the judgment of God, it is the will a few corrupt individuals who use our flawed culture to their advantage, just as Beowulf and the Danes did in the epic, and the Roman Empire in our past.
By examining what the poems deeper meanings are by using real world examples in our society, we can see how the author, whoever he or she may be, wanted to show us that all of mankind must change our hypocritical state of mind if we are ever going to hope to achieve progress. In Conclusion, the epic poem “Beowulf” is a representation of how human beings have somehow naturally adopted and accepted a hypocritical state of being.
It was very prominent throughout the text, in the culture of the Danes, we have seen examples of it as far back as the Roman Empire, and we see it every day here in America. The culture of the Anglo-Saxons greatly affected the character Beowulf in so many ways, from his mindset to way of life, all of it was derived from those roots. The question we must all ask ourselves after examining these deeper underlying meanings in this great work is how we can as individuals change these hypocritical norms so that we can evolve and progress to a state much farther them our own.