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Beowulf is an epic tale of a hero seeking out fame and fortune. Beowulf is a young, strong and prideful man who wants to prove himself as the greatest person, and ultimately gain kingship in his own land. Thomas Foster’s chapter, “Every Trip is a Quest(Except When It’s Not)” lays out the rules of a quest. In order for a trip to be a quest it must first contain: a quester, a place to go, a stated reason for going there, challenges and trials along the way, and then the real reason to go there. The real reason for a quest is always self- knowledge(Foster 3). Beowulf- though it at first appears to be a quest by satisfying the first four rules- is not a quest because he never attains self- knowledge. From the very beginning, Beowulf seems like a quest. There is the quester, Beowulf, on a journey to achieve glory. He goes to Herot to help rid the mead hall of Grendel. Though his real reason has nothing to do with defending from Grendel, he goes to kill Grendel in order to prove his strength, which is his stated reason but another less clear reason is his quest for fame, not knowledge. He doesn’t want to know if he is truly the greatest, he just wants to be perceived as the greatest. So automatically the first three rules are accounted for. Foster say’s the quester can be just an ordinary person, not even all that heroic, in fact usually someone young and immature(Foster 3). Beowulf is already a well-known hero, despite being young.
As he arrives in Herot he begins to face his challenges, the first of which is not in the form of a creature. Unferth, Hrothgar’s son, dislikes Beowulf’s bravery and begins to argue with him, calling him a boastful fool and saying that he won’t win because he lost a swimming match with Brecca(Beowulf 27, 240- 241 and 258-269) . To Beowulf, the questioning of his greatness is hardly a challenge as he explains his side of the story. In return, he retaliates by saying, “Proud son, if your hands were as hard, your heart as fierce as you think it, no fool would dare to raid your hall, ruin Herot and oppress it’s prince, as Grendel has done.” (Beowulf 28, 324- 327). This effectively quails Unferth as Beowulf points out Unferth’s own downfalls. At the end of this argument, he hasn’t learned anything, he even seems more overconfident as he speaks in almost a sarcastic manner about his soon to be battle with Grendel.
As he battles Grendel he loses one of his men, but since he never grieves, this doesn’t appear as much of a setback. Beowulf defeats Grendel by pulling off his arm and displaying the arm for all to see. He doesn’t learn anything in his battle with Grendel. He still believe’s himself to be the greatest. Going into the battle without a weapon proves just how confident he is in his abilities. His confidence rings true when he wins; because this confidence is mainly based on faith in himself, and he doesn’t reach a point where this unbidden faith is questioned, he never actually comes to any realization about himself. If anything the battle with Grendel proves that Beowulf doesn’t need help in a fight and that he is nearly invincible.
His next challenge he fights with Grendel’s mom. The fact that he is called on to help purge Herot of its newest enemy just reasserts to him that he is the greatest. He goes to fight Grendel’s mother alone and the fact that he does not seek any outside help shows that he has not learned anything. After he is done he seeks out Grendel’s already dead body and precedes to cut off his head. The fact that he has won yet another battle and has not reached any realization about himself shows that this is not a quest.
Beowulf represents the more confident and self-assured side of people. He never questions his abilities and is quick to defend himself. Beowulf is the classic hero with his loyal and honorable nature; and completely portrays the universal theme of good versus evil. His battles with Grendel, Grendel’s mom, and with the dragon are examples of a good force triumphing over an evil one. This can be seen today in popular movies and books, shows, cops catching criminals, or even in daily life, (such as paying your taxes.)
Beowulf. Trans. Burton Raffel. Elements of Literature, 6th Course. Eds. Kylene Beers and Lee Odell, et. Al. Austin, TX: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 2007. 21-39. Print.
Beowulf. Trans. Seamus Heaney. Elements of Literature, 6th Course. Eds. Kylene Beers and Lee Odell, et. Al. Austin, TX: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 2007. 43-48. Print.
Foster, Thomas. How to Read Literature Like a Professor. New York: HarperCollins, 2003. Print.
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