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Light has been used as a symbol of the spiritual throughout Beowulf. Beowulf wants the...

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jamie-wheeler | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted December 17, 2007 at 7:20 PM via web

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Light has been used as a symbol of the spiritual throughout Beowulf. Beowulf wants the light from his funeral pyre to carry the word of his demise to all those who may see it.  In what ways does Beowulf still misunderstand the purpose of light? 

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 12, 2013 at 5:36 AM (Answer #1)

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It is interesting that there appears to be some abiguity in the text concerning the funeral pyre. On the one hand, the imagery of light and darkness has been used to suggest the battle between higher spiritual forces throughout the text, with Beowulf representing the forces of good and Grendel and his mother representing the forces of evil. However, on the other hand, the pyre, which should act as a celebration of Beowulf's life, is actually a time of transition for the Geats, as it represents the onset of darkness, war and death. Note, for example, how the pyre is described in the following quote:

On a height they kindled the hugest of all

funeral fires; fumes of woodsmoke

billowed darkly up, the blaze roared

and drowned out their weeping, wind died down

and flamed wrought havoc in the hot bone-house,

burning it to the core. They were disconsolate

and wailed aloud for their lord's decease.

Beowulf thinks that his funeral pyre will alert everyone to his death, but he fails to understand that his funeral pyre also seems to represent much more than this. In fact, the text seems to suggest that Beowulf's funeral pyre is the last flaming out of the forces of good before darkness descends on the land of the Geats. The way in which the smoke from the pyre is said to be "swallowed" by heaven reinforces this impression. Beowulf's funeral pyre therefore becomes a rather complex symbol in the text, far more complex than Beowulf could ever have imagined. 

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