Essay on Grendel and Beowulf Heroism

1599 Words May 30th, 2005 7 Pages
Intentions and Heroism

A building is ablaze and a crowd of people stare helplessly from the streets, listening to screams coming from within. A single person runs in to rescues whomever he or she can find. Whether or not that person emerges with a child in their arms, empty handed, or not at all, does nothing to alter our society's perception of their heroism. Today's society would classify such an action as heroic, regardless of outcome, for one reason: intentions. During Anglo-Saxton times the interpretation of such an act, based on the tale Beowulf, would not be so understanding of what was intended, but rather of the outcome. If one perished and failed in an attempt of such a heroic act words like weakness might arise. It is here
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Gardner's version of Beowulf is a much different person. "The eyes slanted downward, never blinking, unfeeling as snake's" (p. 154) "The sea-pale eyes of the stranger were focused on nothing" (p. 155) "The stranger smiled on, he downward slanting eyes like empty pits." (p 161) Gardner uses Beowulf's eyes very effectively to remove him from the realm of hero by clarifying his intentions. Beowulf isn't there because he wants to save lives or stop suffering, he's there because he wants to be known as the person who saves lives and stops suffering. His eyes are dead to the world because he is dead to the world he's currently in. "The stranger smiled on, but with closed eyes. He knew a doomed house when he saw it, I had a feeling; but for one reason or another he kept his peace." (165) Beowulf knows his actions will do nothing to prevent the doom Grendel speaks of. Doom is an interesting word to use in that situation, destiny, and inevitability arise from such a word. If the house is doomed why remove one evil when it faces so many others? Beowulf is removing the evil because his intentions have nothing to do with saving mead halls or kingdoms, his intentions lie completely contained within himself and his reputation. "His mind, as he spoke, seemed far away, as if, though polite, he were indifferent to all this—an outsider not only among the Danes but everywhere…The hint of irony in the smile grew darker." (154) Beowulf is anywhere in his mind but there, like

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