Beowulf Motifs Essay
In classic literature, one will often see traces of literary devices that enhance the reading fluency as well as entertainment for the reader. Often, the reader will enjoy literature because of the writer’s attention to bring humor, suspense, drama, and many more genres to life. In a narrative a motif is any recurring or consistent element/entity that has symbolic significance in a story. Through its repetition a motif can help produce other narrative or literary aspects such as a theme or mood.
They are defined as “entities/symbols that reoccur throughout a literary work; sometimes appearing in multiple forms. ” In the epic tale, Beowulf, many motifs bring together the characters and the plot. Consequently, three significant motifs that enhance its theme are loyalty, revenge, and envy. One of the central themes of Beowulf, embodied by its title character, is loyalty. At every step of his career, loyalty is Beowulf’s guiding virtue. Beowulf comes to the assistance of the Danes for complicated reasons. He is interested in increasing his reputation and gaining honor and payment.
Beowulf does become king and rules with honor and fidelity to his office and his people for 50 years. In his final test, the burden of loyalty will rest on other, younger shoulders. Preparing for his last battle, with the fiery dragon, Beowulf puts his trust in 11 of his finest men, retainers who have vowed to fight to the death for him. Although the now elderly king insists on taking on the dragon alone, he brings along the 11 in case he needs them. When it is apparent that Beowulf is losing the battle to the dragon, however, all but one of his men run and hides in the woods.
Only Wiglaf, an inexperienced thane who has great respect for his king, remains loyal. Wiglaf calls to the others, but realizing that they will be no help and that his king is about to be killed, he stands beside the old man to fight to the death theirs or the dragon’s. For Beowulf, sadly, it is the end. Although he and Wiglaf kill the dragon, the king dies. As he dies, Beowulf passes the kingdom on to the brave and loyal Wiglaf. Revenge serves as a motivating factor for several characters throughout the poem, initially stirring Grendel and his mother.
Grendel seeks revenge upon mankind for the heritage that he has been dealt. He delights in raiding Heorot because it is the symbol of everything that he detests about men: their success, joy, glory, and favor in the eyes of God. Grendel’s mother’s revenge is more specific. She attacks Heorot because someone there killed her son. Although she is smaller and less powerful than Grendel, she is motivated by a mother’s fury. When Beowulf goes after her in the mere, she has the added advantage of fighting him in her own territory.
As she drags him into her cave beneath the lake, her revenge peaks because this is the very man who killed her son. Only Beowulf’s amazing abilities as a warrior and the intervention of God or magic can defeat her. Finally, Despite Unferth’s jealous rant at the first banquet, the most serious embodiment of envy in the poem is Grendel. The ogre who has menaced Hrothgar’s people for 12 years is envious of the Danes because he can never share in mankind’s hope or joy. The monster’s motivation is one of the few undeniably Christian influences in the epic.
Grendel is a descendant of Cain, the biblical son of Adam and Eve who killed his brother Abel out of jealousy (Genesis 4). The legend is that the monsters of the earth are Cain’s descendants and eternally damned. Grendel resents men because God blesses them but will never bless him. The bright lights and sounds of joy emanating from Hrothgar’s magnificent mead-hall, Heorot, especially annoy the ogre. The scop’s “Song of Creation” angers Grendel because it reminds him of the light and hope of God’s creation and the loss he suffers because of Cain’s sin.
Grendel stomps up from the mere to devour Danes and rule nightly over Heorot as a form of revenge stemming from this envy. Coming from a highly valued family name, Beowulf must earn his own reputation within his own family. Throughout his battles, Beowulf personifies the motifs of loyalty, revenge, envy, reputation, vengeance, and fate which contribute to the overall epic theme. Each of these contrasting themes contributes as to why Beowulf was such a tremendous epic hero.