Conflict between Good and Evil or the Three Fights in Beowulf
Beowulf is an epic concerning the adventures of a pagan Teutonic hero of the same name. The poem is mainly pagan in sentiment, but Christian poet who put it into writing throw over it a certain allegorical coloring. The main events in the epic are three fights that Beowulf has to fight against three dangerous forces of darkness. Two of them are Grendel and his mother and the third one a foul Dragon. Beowulf kills Grendel and his mother, but in his final battle with the Dragon, Beowulf receives a mortal wound. The poem concludes with the funeral of the hero.
These fights fought by Beowulf have allegorical significance – they appear to be the fights between good and evil. On the secular level, the allegory of the fights takes the form of a struggle between the beneficent and malevolent forces in the world. Beowulf is obviously the champion of good and the Monsters and the Dragon are the symbols of evil.On the natural level also the fight has symbolic significance. Grendel and his mother stand for welting north sea against which the sea-farer like Beowulf and the Nordic people, in general, have to wage a constant war. As the poem was given a Christian coloring by the mouth-scribe, a Christian interpretation is also possible. Beowulf, the leader of his people, fights a heroic battle against the force of death, the Dragon, and sacrifices his life in the process. He is like Jesus Christ fighting and ultimately defeating Satan at the cast of his own life.
Grendel, a fierce daemon, starts attacking Hrothgar mead-hall every night and kills many of his men while they are asleep. The poet makes Grendel’s origin clear by making him a progeny of rain, the cursed son of Adam and therefore a force of evil. Beowulf comes to tackle Grendel with his followers from Geatland.
The first encounter between Grendel and Beowulf takes place on a dark night when the monster attacks Herot once again. Beowulf watches Grendel entered the hall and attack a sleeping thane and eat him up. Then the fiend graves off and then engages in a fierce battle. The Danes hear the terrible sound of God’s enemy, Grendel wailing with pain. Beowulf’s powerful grip on Grendel destroys the monster that flees to the fen to die.
The second encounter Beowulf has to make is with Grendel’s mother who is even more monstrous than her son. She is a woman doomed to leave in icy waters after Cain kills his brother. She broods over the loss of her son and hates for the hall of the Danes to avenge the death of Grendel. Mad with anger, she breaks upon the door of the hall and sizes one of the men and flees to the fen where she lives. Beowulf was absent for the hall on that night. He is quickly summoned by Hrothgar to deal with this female monster. Hrothgar promises further treasure to Beowulf if he can seek out and destroy the monster woman in her dwelling place. The poet presents Grendel’s mother with more evil significance than Grendel. She has an air of mystery around her and she represents the primeval force of evil inhabiting the earth. Beowulf jumps into the swirling pool and comes to the bottom of it. He then encounters Grendel’s mother, frim and greedy guardian of that part of the water. She grabs Beowulf and carries him to her under sea-home. Beowulf struggles with her in a hand to hand fight. He grabs her by the shoulder and pulls her to the floor, but she is about to pierce Beowulf with her dagger. Beowulf’s corselet protects him from a sure death. Beowulf springs to her feet and sees a sword of the giants among the monster woman belonging. With this Beowulf stabs her. She dies and Beowulf rejoices over his victory.
Beowulf’s fight with Grendel’s mother is beset with more symbolic meaning that in the case of the fight with Grendel. Here God has a more important role to play. Beowulf realizes that his own mortal strength in the face of such evil would be inadequate. The encounter demonstrates fully the poet’s main theme of conflict between good and evil. A thoroughly Christian theme of God’s grace has been integrated artistically within the frame=work of a pagan struggle between the hero and the monster.
The final fight Beowulf has to fight is that dragon. This occurs in his own country, Geatland. After the death of Hygelec and his son, Heardred, Beowulf becomes king of the Geats and for fifty years he governs his people as a wise ruler. Then a fire-dragon begins to ravage the country-side because a man of the Geats steals an ornamented cup from a treasure-hoard being guarded by the fire dragon.With eleven comrades, Beowulf goes to face the Dragon. He goes near the barrow of the Dragon, leaving his comrades behind to watch the fight. He shouted defiantly to the Dragon and blast of firing serpent breath comes from the cave. Beowulf faces the energy and draws his sword. The flame-breathing Dragon poised for attack and Beowulf advances to kill the creature with his sword. Unfortunately, the sword does not pierce the Dragon’s flesh. It becomes furious until ultimately Beowulf is almost enveloped in flame. Seeing in distress, his companions flee for their own lives to the forest, except one, Wiglaf. Beowulf and Wiglaf fight side by side against the dragon. The Dragon Clutches Beowulf’s neck with its tusks and wounds him severely.Beowulf then draws his dagger and slides the monster. The Dragon is killed but Beowulf also dies of his wounds.
This third fight of Beowulf has more allegorical significance and symbolic value than the earlier once. In this final war the hero waging a war against the devil itself. He is deserted by all his followers except Wiglaf. The circumstances in which Beowulf is betrayed by his followers and dies reminded the Christian readers very easily of Christ’s desertion by the apostles and his death on the cross. The Dragon itself is a symbol of earthly pride; the treasure she is guarding is the emblem of worldly riches – Beowulf’s victory over the Dragon is the victory of civilization over the forces of chaos and darkness of reason and order over destruction. In fact, all the three fights epitomize the eternal fight that a man has to fight against the forces of evil lurk in the midst of hostile nature.