How is Heorot different from where Grendel lives?

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wordprof | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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This question, seemingly simple on the surface, has importance in the dissection of the story’s structure.  Beowulf can be read as a saga of communality—the blending of societies, the friendships forged between nations, etc.  Heorot is the place where Mankind find refuge in comradeship, in collaboration, in mutual respect, in societal membership.  Grendel lives with his mother in a cave under stagnant water, not only far from other creatures, but isolated as a species also.  The anonymous author did not provide many details of this solitary creature and his mother, because Grendel is simply a manifestation (or rather, an animated embodiment) of non-human forces that social creatures fear because they bring chaos to an ordered world.  In this respect, Beowulf is simply a “fairy-tale”, the genre that fictionalizes and dramatizes human fears—Hansel and Gretel is a story of childhood desertion, for example).  While it is usually seen as a war saga, it functions as well as a “scary story” that early Western culture told itself.  A study could be done of all “dwellings” or “habitats” in fairy tales—the witch’s house, Rapunzel’s tower, the Seven dwarfs’ cottage (and the mine where they work), Grandma’s house, the Three Little Pigs’ straw house, etc.—and Beowulf could be added—to reveal how domestic environs act as paysages moralise (moral landscapes).  Heorot is a place of comeradeship.  Grendel's cave is a place of isolation.


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