Essay Analysis of Heroism in Beowulf

Type of text
Title of the text and its Source
Beowulf poem dates back to 8th century
Composer of Text
Medium of production
Oral tradition


Beowulf represents an Old English heroic poem with an anonymous writer that dates back between 8th and 11th century. Gummere (2007) recounts the poem citing the rein of King Hrothgar who had successfully flourished the kingdom, but suffered casualties of his people each night through a demon-like monster. The Dane (Danish) kingdom had suffered for more than 12 years the terror of Grendel a gigantic man-like demon that resides in swamplands within Hrothgar’s kingdom. Beowulf a young Geatish warrior hears of Hrothgar plight and sails with fourteen finest men to fight Grendel. On arrival, the king prepared a feast for Beowulf and his men for coming to their rescue. In the middle of the night, Grendel angered by the celebratory mood of the party emerges and kills a man before reaching Beowulf.

Beowulf fights Grendel unarmed and proves to be stronger than the monster, which becomes terrified. While Grendel tries to escape, Beowulf tears his arm off and mortally injures him as he slinks to the swamp to die. Grendel’s mother who lives in an isolated lake hears about the death of his son and vows revenge. She kills Aeschere who is one of the trusted advisers of the king and Beowulf plans to revenge. He and his men travel to the foggy swamp where Beowulf dives in, fights with Grendel’s mother and kills her with a sword meant for a giant. He also finds Grendel corpse and cuts its head and brings it to the Danish people who celebrate the end of their terror. Beowulf returns to Geatland to his king and queen, Hygelac and Hygd respectively. Over time, Hygelac and his son get killed in the war and Beowulf becomes king. He rules with strength and harmony bringing peace to Geatland for many years.

When he becomes an old man, one day a robber disturbs a barrow that had been hiding a dragon. The dragon comes out and in a few days he destroys and unleashes destruction in Geats. Even though Beowulf knows he is old and about to die, he goes after the dragon and succeeds in killing it. However, the dragon bites him on the neck before dying and the venom kills Beowulf who is celebrated by his people and given a king’s burial. The purpose of Beowulf poem was to emphasize the Anglo-Saxons culture and their values. The traditional Saxon society promoted the values of heroism and strength of warriors to support the king in protecting the people. The audience of the poem is the traditional Anglo-Saxon as well as the Scandinavian people to recognize heroic deeds (Gummere 2007).

Relation to Heroism

Legendary heroes refer to individuals that exceed ordinary people in terms of skill, strength and courage. However, courage or strength is not the only terms that refer to heroism. The people who possess moral bravery such as those who risk their lives or reputations to do a good deed, as opposed to what is normally popular are known as heroes. Heroism in Beowulf is depicted by Beowulf who shows great strength and courage to face monsters. He puts his life at stake to defend the people of Dana and even his own people. He has moral courage that involves risking his own life to protect is people from the dragon. Even when he knows he is too old and almost near his death, Beowulf rushes to fight the dragon that is unleashing destruction in Geatland (Gummere 2007, p. 34).

Language and Features

Beowulf has employed a third person narration and a present tense sequence of events. The use of personification such as “on the breast of the boat, the breaker-of-rings,” creates a dramatic flow of the story. Beowulf includes features of symbols to accentuate the characters of the poem. The Golden Torque is a collar that Wealhtheow wife of Hrothgar offers to Beowulf as a symbol of loyalty and trust between Danish people and Geats. Beowulf gave Hygelac the golden torque and he died in war with it and this signifies the continuity of kinship between the two. The Banquet that is prepared after the defeat of Grendel shows the reinstatement of peace and order among the Danish community (Gummere 2007, p. 67).


The Beowulf poem is recounted at the period when the Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian people conquered the island of Britain and settled in the place for many years. They brought with them several related Germanic languages that later evolved to form the Old English. The story of Beowulf was set around 500 A.D. in the time before the migration. The element of the poem features the role of warriors in this ancient community and the amplification of expected behaviors in the society (Gummere 2007).


Beowulf and The Old Man and the Sea are similar in that the protagonists portray heroism. Beowulf decided to risk his own life to protect the people of Dana from monsters and even at old age he went after a dragon and died protecting his people. Santiago from The Old Man and the Sea shows heroism as he decides not to give up and ventures into deep waters to fish. The marlin fish he catches tries to escape and even though it was stronger and causing damage to his hands, he persevered until he killed it (Kammer, 1995).

Task 2
The passage occurs deep in the sea as the old man Santiago begins to head home. The sharks had eaten the marlin fish he had caught and after fighting with them for several hours he became tired. The sharks devoured the entire fish and only the skeleton remained and he ignored them as he sailed home through the night. The old man decides that he made a mistake going too deep into the ocean because the sea is dangerous. He makes a vow to sail home to get some sleep and concludes the sailing deep into the ocean is not advisable. The marlin fish he caught is devoured by sharks through the night. Only the fish’s skeleton remains and it is the only thing that he manages to go home with after the adventure (Kammer, 1995, p. 40).

Hemmingway makes use of personification to accentuate and emphasize the points in the story. The personification element in the story allows the reader to get a deeper meaning of the text and become engaged in the story. He cites, “The wind is our friend, anyway, he thought” which is personification that adds tone to the prose. Hemingway is conveying the idea that he understands he has come from a battle and he is glad to be going home. The wind was blowing in a direction that allowing the boat to sail smoothly to the shore. The personification in the passage shows that the old man felt gratitude to have come from a successful battle and desired to get some rest. He uses the words to indicate that he realized that sailing deep into the sea was not a wise decision because of the many dangers, but he was glad to have met the marlin fish (Kammer, 1995).

The passage shows heroism because the old man understood that he had been defeated by the sharks that consumed the marlin. He realized that the safest idea would be to sail home, rest and prepare for another day of fishing. The old man knew that even though he managed to kill the marlin, it was too big to lift in the boat and could not deter the sharks from eating it. He made a wise decision to let the sharks finish the marlin carcass while he heads home safely. The quality of courage is revealed in the passage as the old man manages to catch a marlin fish which was huge in size. The theme of wisdom also appears in the passage when the old man makes the decision that sailing deep into the sea is a dangerous venture.  The language of wisdom is portrayed as he says “I went out too far” to insinuate that he knows how to make the right decision in future (Kammer, 1995, p. 48).

Task 3
I agree that a hero represents an ordinary person who is able to find courage to endure even when faced with obstacles. A hero means a person of great character, strength, skills, wisdom and determination. However, a hero is not described by courage and strength because moral bravely also makes a person a champion. In ordinary world, people can be heroes in various spheres of life. This means people who have the ability to go beyond what society expects of them to protect or assist people in need. For example, a woman who finds an abandoned child and makes a home for him/her represents heroism. Despite the obstacles of limited resources, food, and shelter such a woman shows perseverance and compassion for others. In this way, ordinary people represent heroes in many ways such as offering help to a friend in need, reporting crimes, and taking care of the elderly (Kammer, 1995).

For example, from the story of The Old Man and the Sea, Santiago represents an ordinary man who becomes a hero. He knows that going deeper into the ocean offers the chance to catch fish even after going many days without a catch. He does not give up because circumstances have become tough, but instead uses it as a challenge to forge ahead. He ventures into the deep waters and catches a big marlin that proves hard to control. However, even with the obstacle of having less strength compared to the fish, the old man does not give in to defeat. The marlin pulls the boat deeper into the ocean and the old man refuses to let it go. He perseveres even as his hands begin to breed from the pressure caused by the fishing rope he is using to hold on to the marlin.

He spends more than three days into the deep ocean waiting for the right moment to overcome the marlin fish. In this way, Santiago shows qualities of strength, courage, honor and bravery even though he is just an old man. He resolves that “man is not made for defeat . . .  man can be destroyed but not defeated” which indicates that even though he faces many obstacles, he does not give up. The story of The Old Man and the Sea teaches that a hero is a person who does not give up even in trying times. It shows that ordinary people can be heroes depending on the decisions they choose to take. If a person faces obstacles and cowers instead of finding a solution, he/she does not portray heroism (Kammer, 1995, p. 48).

Additionally, heroes as ordinary men go beyond their normal duties even risking their lives to assist others.  In most cases, such a person may be afraid or terrified in doing a task, but finds the strength and courage to persevere. A major difference between a hero and a villain is signified by concern for others. People who are selfish and uncaring cannot be considered heroes. For example, if one meets a person wounded in an accident and does not offer any assistance for fear of using personal resources, this shows cowardice. Individuals that choose to put other people’s needs ahead of their own shows courage, and requires recognition as heroes. In this way, one can only care about others if he/she has compassion in his heart to want to help others. In others words, it is the will to give up personal comfort and desires in order to secure the life of another individual. This compassion goes beyond family members and extended to strangers who may require assistance (Gummere 2007).

For instance, from the story Beowulf, the protagonist Beowulf shows heroic attributes when he offers to help the people of Dana kill a monster. Beowulf risks own life because he feels that he has the talents and will to destroy the monster that terrorizes the people. He does not hesitate to contact King Hrothgar and offers his help without expecting anything in return. He faces the monsters Grendel and his mother with courage and determination until he prevails. Beowulf also shows that he can risk his own life to save others. When he becomes a king who is old and about to die, a dragon begins to terrorize his own people at Geatland. He knows that he is about to die and does not have the same strength as before, but he still goes after the dragon. He manages to kill the dragon and also loses his own life to protect his people. Beowulf represents a man who put the needs of others before his own desires and rejoices at the thought of protecting the people. He has love for others even though they are not his family members or his own people, Beowulf cares about their security. The poem cites, “… must be skilled to sever and sunder duly” to indicate that courage means power (Gummere 2007).

Kammer, P 1995, The old man and the sea, Munich, Hueber Verlag.
Gummere, F 2007, Beowulf, Minnesota, Wilder Publications.