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THEMES - THEME ANALYSIS
Good vs. Evil
The entire poem centers on the fight of good, represented by Beowulf, versus evil, represented by Grendel, his mother, and the dragon. In the theme there is a clear religious overtone, with the forces of good aligned with God, Christ and salvation, while the forces of evil are aligned with Satan. Beowulf becomes almost a crusader, fighting to rid the world of Satan's influence. The satanic strain, seen in the monsters, is a timeless foe that attacks mankind and leaves behind a path of destruction and doom; it has been in existence since the fall of man.
Christian allegorists see the greedy, malicious, and evil monsters as symbols of Satan and eternal damnation. Beowulf is the means of salvation. By slaying the monsters, he is delivering mankind. The poem, therefore, emphasizes the need of a savior to protect mankind from the powers of evil. In truth, during the time the poem was created, many Danes had turned away from God and were practicing ritualism and pagan idol worship. According to the poet, Hrothgar is still devoted to God; as a result, he is not harmed by Grendel, who fears his staunch belief in God. In s similar manner, Beowulf's strength seems to be a gift from God and it is through God's power that he overcomes God's foe. The poem is the tale of the triumph of good over evil.
Like in all epic tales, Beowulf emphasizes the importance of loyalty. Beowulf is fiercely loyal, as seen in his allegiance to his king Hygelac, to his host Hrothgar, to his own faithful men, such as Wiglaf, or to his Geatish citizens. Although he could have easily seized the throne from Hygelac or Hrothgar, he is much too loyal to wage a battle against a friend. Nowhere does the reader find Beowulf acting contrary to the ideal of loyalty. As a Nordic- Germanic warrior, he believes in avenging the death of a friend or kin; and as a just king, he believes in loyalty to his subjects and protecting his people harm.
The other good characters in the poem also prove their loyalty. Hrothgar was loyal to Beowulf's father in the past and will now be loyal to Beowulf, promising friendship between the Geats and the Danes throughout his rule. Wiglaf also proves himself to be a loyal thane as he stays to help Beowulf when all the others flee; he is even willing to sacrifice himself to save his master, as seen when he tries to attract the dragon's attention to himself and away from Beowulf. When the other cowards return, Wiglaf chastises them for their lack of loyalty to Beowulf. In the end, loyalty is rewarded. Before Beowulf dies, he passes the throne of Geatland to Wiglaf, his loyal servant and friend.
The style of the narrative poem is a very straightforward. It is told in the oral tradition with a chronological order and an emphasis on four stress lines. The poem is also filled with images, allusion, and symbols, which enrich the poem's meaning and majesty. It also uses repetition of words, phrases, and ideas to emphasis a particular point or create a special effect or image. Over all, the poem is told in a warm, humane way by a poet who clearly honors fundamental human values.