Frankenstein vs. Beowulf
Frankenstein vs. Beowulf Oxford dictionary defines monster as, “Originally: a mythical creature which is part animal and part human, or combines elements of two or more animal forms, and is frequently of great size and ferocious appearance. Later, more generally: any imaginary creature that is large, ugly, and frightening. (Oxford English Dictionary)” This definition is basic in nature. What must be added is whether it is nature that makes the monster what it is or is it nurture that makes it what it is. In both Beowulf and Frankenstein the monster complex engages, complicates and has an effect on us.
Beowulf has to battle Grendel, his mom, and the dragon to do his duty as a warrior, but the monsters only make it more difficult to tell who is being a monster and who is being a human. In Frankenstein, a monster is created and another one discovered. But, in both readings the monster and humans nature are blurred, the line in which you are either creature or human gets fuzzy. In Beowulf, Grendel is defined as a monster, “Grendel was the name of this grim demon haunting the marches, marauding round the heath and the desolate fens. (Beowulf, 102-105)” Words like demon, and prowler let us know what the people think of him.
When one reads the lines they imagine a lurker, an unwelcomed thing. Grendel, attacks the Mead Hall that Hrothgar builds out of jealousy and loneliness. When Beowulf is asked by Hrothgar to kill Grendel, he doesn’t say yes, because he feels like he owes him something. He says yes so he can gain from beating Grendel, he wants the pride. Now, when Beowulf kills Grendel he himself is not acting under the heroic code. Under the code set by society, Hrothgar should be the one responsible for killing the monster, because he is king and he should be brave enough to kill his own demons, after all it is his Mead hall and his men are being attacked.
When Grendel is defeated by Beowulf his mom comes after Herot. Under the heroic code she is acting legally. The heroic code, values strength, bravery and devotion in warriors and under this code you are allowed to seek out revenge if one of your family or clan members is murdered you may then take a life for a life from one of the murders own. Grendel is her mate and her partner in life, and he has just been killed and under the code you are allowed to seek revenge and take one of those lives close to whoever killed your partner. She kills Hrothgar’s closest advisor, and this in turn angers Hrothgar so he sends Beowulf to kill the monster.
This time Beowulf is acting more out self-defense then wanting the glory of killing two monsters, that is just an added bonus for him. When Beowulf then goes to kill her, he has abandoned his ethics that he believes he performs perfectly for pleasing Hrothgar. Under the code once you have gotten your revenge it is done. Grendel’s mom got her revenge and all should be completed. But the fact that Grendel’s mom is even alive is insulting to Beowulf, for his ego and pride he needs to kill her to fulfill his own duties, and be presented gifts from Hrothgar. This is not how a hero should act.
He has left and abandoned everything he knows. Beowulf’s character and Grendel’s mom have switched roles. One would expect the monster to be the one that disregards the code and the human to hold it high on his list on standards. But it is the monster that indeed follows the code, and the human that disregards it. This abandonment complicates who is a monster. If we drop the names and just look at the facts, Beowulf would be considered the monster because of his obvious loss of what is acceptable. And Grendel’s mom, even though considered a monster, is acting as a human under the ethic code.
She doesn’t kill everyone at Herot, just one, a life for a life. This reversal of roles lets the reader know that the heroic system is flawed. The effect that this complication has on the reader is that the line between monster and human is blurred, and if the monster can be put under the ethic code even though she was acting heroically, then who defines who can act accordingly to the code. This leaves Beowulf as the monster, when we believe him to be the hero. For the rest of the poem this leaves us an opening to judge him on character.
Because of this fault, one can believe that he is a faulty king and ruler, even though he does what a king is suppose to do; he gives gifts to his Geats. When Beowulf fights the dragon, he doesn’t think of it as being a dragon. All Beowulf can think of is gaining a bigger ego to match his heroics. But, one must praise Beowulf for doing what Hrothgar could not; protect his kingdom. Beowulf tried to defeat the dragon to be able to have the dragons hoard. What Beowulf leaves when he dies is his identity, his monstrous identity of not following the heroic code.
In all rights, Beowulf is an old king and he doesn’t need the dragon’s hoard, but because he is a selfish individual and prides himself on heroics, he goes and tries to defeat the dragon. This leaves the Geats kingless and now he has ultimately ruined his and everyone’s life that he worked to build up over his 50 years of being king. Instead of defeating the dragon he should have focused on other problems. He was a good king, but he was selfish ultimately, and selfishness was not part of the heroic code that he prided himself on. He defeated one monster only to become even more of one.
In the novel Frankenstein, Victor and his Monster compete over who is a monster and who is human. This competition makes one think of if it is nurture or nature that makes one who he or she is. The monster, not being nurtured at all is more of a human than Victor is, but in all reality his physical appearance deems him as a monster, Victor describes him as, “I perceived, as the shape came nearer, (sight tremendous and abhorred! ) that it was the wretch whom I had created. I trembled with rage and horror, resolving to wait his approach, and then close with him in mortal combat. Shelley, 65)” Victor is outraged and would like nothing more than to kill the poor creature, but this is the kind of thing that you would expect a monster to say, it wouldn’t be able to control his feelings, for instance, “When I thought of him, I gnashed my teeth, my eyes became inflamed, and I ardently wish to extinguish the life which I had so thoughtlessly bestowed, (Shelley, 60)” When we are invited to listen to the inner thoughts of the creature in volume II we see a kind and lost creature, “I was poor, helpless, miserable wretch; I knew, and could distinguish nothing; but, feeling pain invade me on all sides, I sat down and wept. Norton, 68)” The creature can feel pain, cry, hunger, thirst, be cold, lonely, and feel desolate. He is so close to being human. His story, it is not filled with death, murderous thoughts, or wanting to cause pain. Except for that of the murder of William, William’s constant name calling of the creature created despair and with being abandoned the creature could not distinguish his emotions. And although he doesn’t feel remorse for the death, he knows that what he did was a bad thing. The creature’s dialogue shows that he just wanted to be nurtured. When one reads both narratives, the thoughts of
Victor read more like a monster would think, hectic, homicidal, and inhuman. And the monsters dialogue reads more of a baby being born, and the stages he goes through of learning and processing. Also, the creature is incredible smart, he learned two languages, and he has better linguistic abilities then Victor, “Begone, vile insect! or rather stay, that I may trample you to dust! and, oh, that I could, with the extinction of your miserable existence, restore those victims whom you have so diabolically murdered! (Shelley, 65)” but he is in fact wants to kill the monster that he created.
Not only does Victor think like a monster his attitude and character are that of a monster. At first Victor agrees to accept the monsters proposal and make him a mate. But, after Victor thinks about it, he decided to change his mind because the female anatomy is disgusting to him. The change in decision is something only a monster would do, because your word meant everything in those days, so to go against is to go against what they believed. This complicates the definition of the monstrous because the said be monster should be thinking like a monster, when actually it thinks like a human, and Victor, his creator, thinks like a monster.
For the rest of the book Shelley invites us to explore the idea of what makes you a monster, is it nurture or is it nature. This is one of the major themes of the book. The idea that it is not in your nature to become a monster but you are nurtured to be one. We know that this is that because the monster is abandoned at birth and left to leave his own life, and instead of becoming the monster he is suppose to become, he becomes a smart individual that understands more about human life than Victor does. Victor, was natured as child, but yet still grows up to be a monster.
This nature vs. nurture theme helps the reader understand how Victor and the creature see the world. What does make you a monster? Is it one’s mere physical appearance, or is your mentality? Frankenstein and Beowulf engage with the reader to figure this out. Mary Shelley and the author of Beowulf looks to define what can be a monster and what should be a monster. Is one considered monstrous due to the outcome of events or where they nurtured to be that way? The line gets hazy between what is monster and what is human.
And the reader discerns for oneself which one it is. Beowulf is a great king he just has a huge character flaw, his pride. Victor is blinded by his monster mistake to see that he is becoming a monster. Victor is a classic example of a mad scientist, he starts by wanting to do something great and he gets blinded by his pride and in his mind creates something horrible. Beowulf is blinded by his pride to see what his people needs. Each book engages with reader to try and figure out what is human and what is a monster. Nature vs. Nurture.
Grendel’s Mom vs. Beowulf Frankenstein Citations Beowulf. New York, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1996. Print. “Monster. ” Oxford English Dictionary. Sept. 2009. Oxford University Press, Web. 17 Nov 2009. <http://dictionary. oed. com/cgi/entry/00315137? query_type=word&queryword=monster&first=1&max_to_show=10&sort_type=alpha&result_place=1&search_id=zEQa-Mt7XLE-5323&hilite=00315137>. Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. 3rd ed. 3 vols. New York, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1996. Print.