Frankenstein vs. Beowulf
Oxford dictionary defines monster as, “Originally: a mythical creature which is part animal and part human, or combines elements of two or more animal forms, and is frequently of great size and ferocious appearance. Later, more generally: any imaginary creature that is large, ugly, and frightening. (Oxford English Dictionary)” This definition is basic in nature. What must be added is whether it is nature that makes the monster what it is or is it nurture that makes it what it is. In both Beowulf and Frankenstein the monster complex engages, complicates and has an effect on us. Beowulf has to battle Grendel, his mom, and the dragon to do his duty as a warrior, but the monsters only make it more difficult to tell who is being a monster and who is being a human. In Frankenstein, a monster is created and another one discovered. But, in both readings the monster and humans nature are blurred, the line in which you are either creature or human gets fuzzy.
In Beowulf, Grendel is defined as a monster, “Grendel was the name of this grim demon haunting the marches, marauding round the heath and the desolate fens.(Beowulf, 102-105)” Words like demon, and prowler let us know what the people think of him. When one reads the lines they imagine a lurker, an unwelcomed thing. Grendel, attacks the Mead Hall that Hrothgar builds out of jealousy and loneliness. When Beowulf is asked by Hrothgar to kill Grendel, he doesn’t say yes, because he feels like he owes him something. He says yes so he can gain from beating Grendel, he wants the pride. Now, when Beowulf kills Grendel he himself is not acting under the heroic code. Under the code set by society, Hrothgar should be the one responsible for killing the monster, because he is king and he should be brave enough to kill his own demons, after all it is his Mead hall and his men are being attacked. When Grendel is defeated by Beowulf his mom comes after Herot. Under the heroic code she is acting legally. The heroic code, values strength, bravery and devotion in warriors and under this code you are allowed to seek out revenge if one of your family or clan members is murdered you may then take a life for a life from one of the murders own. Grendel is her mate and her partner in life, and he has just been killed and under the code you are allowed to seek revenge and take one of those lives close to whoever killed your partner. She kills Hrothgar’s closest advisor, and this in turn angers Hrothgar so he sends Beowulf to kill the monster. This time Beowulf is acting more out self-defense then wanting the glory of killing two monsters, that is just an added bonus for him. When Beowulf then goes to kill her, he has abandoned his ethics that he believes he performs perfectly for pleasing Hrothgar. Under the code once you have gotten your revenge it is done. Grendel’s mom got her revenge and all should be completed. But the fact that Grendel’s mom is even alive is insulting to Beowulf, for his ego and pride he needs to kill her to fulfill his own duties, and be presented gifts from Hrothgar. This is not how a hero should act. He has left and abandoned everything he knows. Beowulf’s character and Grendel’s mom have switched roles. One would expect the monster to be the one that disregards the code and the human to hold it high on his list on standards. But it is the monster that indeed follows the code, and the human that disregards it.
This abandonment complicates who is a monster. If we drop the names and just look at the facts, Beowulf would be considered the monster because of his obvious loss of what is acceptable. And Grendel’s mom, even though considered a monster, is acting as a human under the ethic code. She doesn’t kill everyone at Herot, just one, a life for a life. This reversal of roles lets the reader know that the heroic system is flawed. The effect that this complication has on the reader is that the line between monster and human is blurred, and if...
Citations: Beowulf. New York, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1996. Print.
"Monster." Oxford English Dictionary. Sept. 2009. Oxford University Press, Web. 17 Nov 2009. <http://dictionary.oed.com/cgi/entry/00315137?query_type=word&queryword=monster&first=1&max_to_show=10&sort_type=alpha&result_place=1&search_id=zEQa-Mt7XLE-5323&hilite=00315137>.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. 3rd ed. 3 vols. New York, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1996. Print.
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