Beowulf, the Real Antagonist

Jason Chang, age 13
Beowulf, the Real Antagonist Jason is a 13 year old writer from Virginia. In his spare time, he enjoys playing Chopin on the piano and swimming the breaststroke on his swim team. He currently lives with his parents, younger sister, and two white Jindo dogs (although he wants two cats of his own when he grows up). On vacation, he recently discovered his talent in finding many clams in the mud, but also realized he needs to work on his fishing skills.

In the book, Beowulf, Grendel and his mother are the main antagonists. From Beowulf’s point of view, Grendel basically marches into his hall, massacring many of his men, until Beowulf can pin down Grendel and rip off his arm; Grendel then runs away and dies. Later on, Grendel’s mother wants revenge on Beowulf, so she sneaks into Beowulf’s hall, retrieves Grendel’s arm, and abducts one of Beowulf’s men. So Beowulf goes to her lair, defeats her, and lives happily ever after until the dragon kills him, but that does not affect this essay.

In the book, Beowulf, Grendel and his mother are the main antagonists. From Beowulf’s point of view, Grendel basically marches into his hall, massacring many of his men, until Beowulf can pin down Grendel and rip off his arm; Grendel then runs away and dies. Later on, Grendel’s mother wants revenge on Beowulf, so she sneaks into Beowulf’s hall, retrieves Grendel’s arm, and abducts one of Beowulf’s men. So Beowulf goes to her lair, defeats her, and lives happily ever after until the dragon kills him, but that does not affect this essay. 

From Grendel’s point of view, it is revealed that Grendel only starts attacking Beowulf’s hall because of the loud clamor and noise that disturbs him every night. After trying and failing to reason with Beowulf’s men, he decides to take action. But when he moves to attack, he’s ganged up on by a group of warriors. The text reads: 

“But Higelac’s hardy henchman and kinsman

Held him by the hand; hateful to other

Was each one if living. A body-wound suffered

The direful demon, damage incurable

Was seen on his shoulder, his sinews were shivered,

His body did burst.” (Beowulf, XIII, lines 21-26).

Here, we learn that Grendel was unfairly outnumbered by all of the men. It also shows that this wound was “incurable”, meaning that Grendel wouldn’t have been able to use his arm again. At that point of the battle, there was no reason to kill him. In the book, the henchmen and kinsmen have successfully restrained Grendel, so capturing him should have been enough. 

After that, Grendel slinks off miserably to die. And, it is reasonable that Grendel’s mom wants to retaliate. Retrieving her only son’s missing arm is justified, and attacking one of Beowulf’s men is also fair — one for one.    

She would’ve left Beowulf alone and lived without causing any more trouble, but of course Beowulf decides to hunt her down. She is caught by surprise, and after a short battle, in which Beowulf steals a sword, is killed.

So Grendel’s mom dies at the hands of Beowulf while trying to avenge her only son, who was also unfairly teamed up against, and is killed by Beowulf. Beowulf finds that Grendel’s mother took his body. We see later in the book that Beowulf knows Grendel is tired of conflict, his joys seizing from him. 

“When he saw on his rest-place weary of conflict

Grendel lying, of life-joys bereavèd,

As the battle at Heorot erstwhile had scathed him;

His body far bounded, a blow when he suffered,

Death having seized him, sword-smiting heavy,

And he cut off his head then.” (Beowulf, XXIV, lines 30-33)

And yet Beowulf still cuts off Grendel’s head and takes the sword that he killed Grendel’s mother with for no other purpose than to use them as trophies, without any guilt of the deaths that he was responsible for. Beowulf’s subsequent death by dragon? Instant karma. 

Works Cited

https://www.gutenberg.org/files/16328/16328-h/16328-h.htm#XII

https://www.gutenberg.org/files/16328/16328-h/16328-h.htm#XII

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