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In Beowulf lines 530-606, the author uses literary devices to characterize heroism in Anglo-Saxon culture. Specifically, Beowulf characterizes an Anglo-Saxon hero as someone who will always fight for their people, even if it results in their own death. In the passage the author characterizes the courage of the hero, Beowulf, by using specific diction, imagery, and a foil.
The author of Beowulf uses his diction to characterize an Anglo-Saxon hero as courageous person willing to fight against all forces for his people and glory. In a tale of Beowulf’s bravery, Beowulf is said to have “struggled on” (line 544) against the “perishing cold”(line 546) during his venture in the cold sea to fight a monster. In this, the author is showing the resilience of Beowulf’s spirit and how he is willing to stay courageous in the face of a struggle for his people. In his many battles, he fights against all odds and comes out on top. Beowulf has a very specific type of combat which exemplifies his courage as he fights with his “own hands”(line 557). By the author emphasizing the fact that Beowulf fights using his bare hands and often by himself, Beowulf is idolized as a brave hero for being able to accomplish amazing feats with no weaponry. An act like this requires larger than life courage, which is a main character trait of an Anglo-Saxon hero. As Beowulf has fought many monsters, and many of them being from the sea, he declares with an air of finality after slaughtering them, “from now on, sailors would be safe”(lines 567-568). The connotation behind this line is that Beowulf has fought hard to protect his people, and because of this he has saved the sailors from a fate of death. With the connotation behind the diction the author uses, Beowulf is characterized as a brave hero who will fight against fate to protect the lives of his people.
In Beowulf, imagery is also used to characterize an Anglo-Saxon hero as gallant and a fierce warrior who will defend his people. One of Beowulf’s accomplishments is described by, “Shoulder to shoulder, we struggled on for five nights, until the long flow and pitch of the waves, the perishing cold, night falling and winds from the north drove us apart”(lines 544-548), the vivid description allows the reader to truly see how this experience was tough on the mind and body of the hero. Yet through this experience, Beowulf prevails and remains determined in his bravery. Beowulf finishes up his long speech on how he will defeat Grendel by describing how because of his actions, “ whoever wants to may go bravely to mead, when morning light, scarfed in sun-dazzle, shines forth from the south and brings another daybreak to the world”(lines 603-606). With this imagery, Beowulf is shown as bringing light to the Danes through defeating the evil that has plagued their land. The act of defeating Grendel and restoring peace to the Danes proves Beowulf to be a typical Anglo-Saxon hero as he fights with ferocity and courage to protect the Danes from a great evil.
The foil of Unferth and Beowulf is a literary device used in Beowulf in order to highlight the characteristic of bravery within Beowulf as Unferth is the exact opposite of the typical Anglo-Saxon hero. While at King Hrothgar’s court, waiting to defeat Grendel, Unferth, a dane warrior, challenges the claims of Beowulf’s bravery and heroicness.
Beowulf responds, “Friend Unferth, you have had your say about Breca and me. But it was mostly beer that was doing the talking”(lines 530-532). Here, Beowulf automatically calls out Unferth for wrongly accusing him of not being the brave warrior everyone says he is, but calls him “friend” as to not stoop to Unferth’s low level of bitterness. Unferth has not made any actions towards defeating Grendel and in his jealousy, he decides to downplay the work of Beowulf. Beowulf plainly states, “The fact is, Unferth, if you were truly as keen or courageous as you claim to be Grendel would never have got away with such unchecked atrocity”(lines 590-593). This shows how Unferth is an example of the exact opposite of an Anglo-Saxon medieval hero. He sits around criticizing the works of others without performing any great deeds himself. In Anglo-Saxon culture, not having heroic stories makes one a failure as these stories are a very important part of a man’s reputation. In comparison to Unferth, Beowulf is always ready to go off into combat, and never insults other people. He is a man of action who creates his own legacy. The purpose of this dialogue is to secure Beowulf’s status as a hero and foreshadow that he is meant for greatness as he will never settle for others disparaging him as he truly is a brave hero. The contrast that is brought by Unferth is meant to glorify Beowulf as a true hero who will fight with courage.
In lines 530-606 of Beowulf, the author uses the literary devices of specific diction, imagery, and a foil. The author does this to characterize the aspect of courage in the typical Anglo-Saxon. Beowulf is the ideal Anglo-Saxon hero as he is brave and will do anything, no matter the repercussions, to protect his people.
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