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PLOT STRUCTURE ANALYSIS
Beowulf is an epic, narrative poem that tells the story of a superhuman hero. The verse is held together by the constant presence of Beowulf, the protagonist of the tale and the chief symbol of strength and goodness in the poem. He swims for seven days in the open sea, battles monsters from the deep, fights and overcomes Grendel and his mother, and slays the dragon.
The plot of the narrative poem is a simple one, revolving around Beowulf, the symbol of good, fighting against a series of monsters, the symbol of evil. At the beginning of the poem, Beowulf is introduced and the conflict is established. The Danes have been plagued for many years by the terror inflicted by an evil monster named Grendel. When Beowulf hears about the sad plight of Hrothgar and his citizens, he determines that he will go to the land of the Danes to free them from the monster.
The rising action begins with Beowulf's departure for Hrothgar's kingdom and continues through most of the poem, as he fights Grendel and Grendel's mother. The final climatic moment occurs when Beowulf fights the dragon. At first unable to drive his sword into the dragon's tough hide, Beowulf is knocked to the ground and fatally wounded by the evil monster when it drives its fangs into his neck. It seems that all will be lost, especially since all of his men flee except for Wiglaf. The noble Beowulf, however, picks himself up and slays the dragon, overcoming evil. The falling action occurs as Beowulf gives his final instructions to Wiglaf before he dies. In the conclusion, a funeral pyre is built, Beowulf is properly mourned, and Wiglaf assumes leadership of the Geats.
Besides the unity of plot and character, Beowulf is unified by theme, allusions, and imagery. Although it is a complex narrative poem, it is held together by its references to historical legends and events. There are also frequent religious allusions, such as the reference to the story of Cain and Abel. Most importantly, there is a constant reminder in the poem that true heroes, like Beowulf, are virtuous, noble, brave, loyal, kind, and generous.
Although the poem is unified by the constant presence of Beowulf in the poem, it is not tightly unified by time and place. The poem spans many years, from the time that Beowulf is a young man until his death in old age. Also the poem is set in the land of both the Danes and the Geats. In spite of the spread in time and place, Beowulf is a wonderfully written and unified poem. It is recognized as the greatest surviving Anglo Saxon poem and the best poetry of the first one thousand years of literature. It is also the only complete epic poem in any pre-conquest Germanic language.