Beowulf is not a Hero Essay

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About this sample


Words: 688 |

Pages: 2|

4 min read

Published: Mar 13, 2024

Words: 688|Pages: 2|4 min read

Published: Mar 13, 2024

Table of contents

  1. Beowulf's Motivation
  2. Beowulf's Conduct
  3. Beowulf's Downfall
  4. Conclusion
  5. Exploring Beowulf's Character

In the epic poem Beowulf, the protagonist is often hailed as a great hero who embodies the virtues of bravery, strength, and honor. However, upon closer examination, it becomes clear that Beowulf may not actually fit the traditional definition of a hero. While he certainly possesses exceptional physical prowess and courage, his motivations and actions reveal a complex and morally ambiguous character. This essay will argue that Beowulf is not a hero in the conventional sense, as his actions are often driven by selfish desires and a thirst for glory, rather than genuine selflessness and altruism.

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Beowulf's Motivation

One of the key aspects of Beowulf's character that challenges his status as a hero is his underlying motivation for undertaking heroic feats. While he is celebrated for his bravery in battling monsters and protecting his people, a closer look at his actions reveals a self-serving desire for fame and glory. In his essay "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics," J.R.R. Tolkien argues that Beowulf's primary motivation is to achieve "renown and glory in the eyes of men" rather than a genuine desire to help others (Tolkien, 31). This is evident in the way Beowulf eagerly seeks out dangerous challenges, such as his decision to confront the monster Grendel and later, the dragon, without any clear benefit to his people or kingdom. His actions are driven by a desire for personal renown rather than a genuine concern for the welfare of others, which is a key characteristic of a true hero.

Beowulf's Conduct

Moreover, Beowulf's conduct in his interactions with others also undermines his heroic status. While he is initially portrayed as a benevolent and noble figure, his behavior becomes increasingly problematic as the poem progresses. For example, his boastful and arrogant nature is evident in his numerous boasts about his abilities and past victories. In a society that values humility and modesty, Beowulf's self-aggrandizing behavior is unheroic and even harmful, as it serves to alienate him from others and undermines his ability to truly inspire and lead by example. Additionally, his treatment of Grendel's mother, whom he brutally slays in her own home, raises questions about the morality of his actions and whether they align with the noble ideals of heroism.

Beowulf's Downfall

Furthermore, Beowulf's ultimate downfall at the hands of the dragon further highlights his limitations as a hero. Despite his physical prowess and previous victories, Beowulf ultimately fails to defeat the dragon without the help of Wiglaf, one of his loyal followers. This raises the question of whether Beowulf's heroism is truly sustainable and whether it is based on genuine strength and virtue, or merely on surface-level displays of bravery and physical prowess. In his critical analysis of the poem, scholar Alain Renoir argues that Beowulf's defeat demonstrates that "physical strength and courage are not enough to ensure success" and that true heroism requires a deeper moral and spiritual strength (Renoir, 82). This suggests that Beowulf's heroic status is ultimately undermined by his lack of moral integrity and his reliance on external sources of support.


In conclusion, Beowulf's actions and motivations throughout the epic poem reveal a character who is far from the idealized image of a hero. While he possesses physical strength and courage, his underlying motivations are driven by personal ambition and a desire for glory, rather than genuine selflessness and altruism. His behavior towards others, as well as his ultimate downfall, further serve to challenge his status as a hero. Therefore, it is clear that Beowulf does not fit the conventional definition of a hero, and his character raises important questions about the nature of heroism and the qualities that truly define a heroic figure.

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Exploring Beowulf's Character

Overall, Beowulf's complex and morally ambiguous character provides a rich and thought-provoking subject for academic analysis. By examining his actions and motivations in the context of the broader themes of the poem, we gain a deeper understanding of the complexities of heroism and the moral dilemmas that arise in the pursuit of glory and renown. This essay has aimed to shed light on the limitations of Beowulf's heroism and to encourage further exploration of the nuanced and multifaceted nature of heroism in literature and beyond.

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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

Cite this Essay

Beowulf Is Not A Hero Essay. (2024, March 13). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 20, 2024, from
“Beowulf Is Not A Hero Essay.” GradesFixer, 13 Mar. 2024,
Beowulf Is Not A Hero Essay. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 20 Jun. 2024].
Beowulf Is Not A Hero Essay [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2024 Mar 13 [cited 2024 Jun 20]. Available from:
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