Beowulf involves both internal and external conflict (in regards to the charcters of Beowulf and Grendel).  Explain how both elements of conflict are present.

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literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The epic Beowulf illustrates the constant battle between good and evil. Within this battle, conflict is forever present. This said, the conflict which exists is not only external (man verses man, nature, or supernatural), the conflict which exists can sometimes be internal (man verses himself).

External Conflict

External conflict is much easier to recognize. Any conflict which arises between two different people, beings, or elements is considered external.

Beowulf- Beowulf faces many different external conflicts within the text. Not only does he face Grendel, he faces Grendel's mother, a dragon, sea monsters, and the ocean (during his swimming battle with Brecca). As a true hero, Beowulf succeeds in defeating all of the challenges and foes he faces (although his battle with the dragon does end Beowulf's life).

Grendel- Grendel faces three main foes within the text. While the conflict with Beowulf is obvious, he also conflicts with the people of Heorot and God.

Internal Conflict

Beowulf- Beowulf essentially fails to show any true internal conflict. In fact, he is so confident in his ability and God's power that, he accepts every challenge without thought. Even in his death, Beowulf does not question (or conflict with) what is happening to him: "he knew full well that his portion of earthly bliss was done and gone" (Chapter 37).

Grendel- As for Grendel, he faced much internal conflict. Given that he was exiled from God's light because of his ancestor Cain, Grendel hated God and those who celebrated him. Therefore, his hatred of God led to his possession of a terrible internal conflict--he hated God so much that he took this anger out on the people of Heorot. Not only that, when fighting Beowulf, Grendel is surprised by the utter strength of the warrior. When faced with the decision to fight or flee, Grendel flees the battle (leaving his shoulder behind as a trophy).

karaejacobi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the epic Beowulf, as in most epics, most of our attention is on action scenes and major plot events. Therefore, external conflicts are much more obvious.

The plot consists of three major examples of external conflict for Beowulf: battles against Grendel, Grendel's mother, and a dragon. These are all examples of man versus the supernatural, as Beowulf's opponents are all essentially monsters. Beowulf wins the first two battles but is mortally wounded in the final battle. Beowulf displays bravery and superhuman strength in these conflicts, as well.

Grendel's major external conflict is his battle with Beowulf, which he loses. He has his arm torn from his body, and he retreats to his cave to die. Before he fights Beowulf, Grendel initiates an external conflict between himself and Hrothgar's men, as he goes to the mead hall repeatedly to attack, kill, and eat them. He is such a ferocious, insatiable beast, though, that no one until Beowulf gives him much of a battle. 

As far as internal conflict, it is not as obvious, but you could say that Beowulf shows some evidence of an internal conflict when he chooses to fight Grendel. He must ask his men to join him, knowing he is risking their lives, and he also shows concern for his men when he asks Hrothgar to take care of them if he (Beowulf) is killed fighting the monsters. This may indicate some subtle internal conflict, though it's easily resolved for Beowulf. He doesn't seem to hesitate when deciding to take on a fight.

Grendel's internal conflict is a result of his nature: he is said to be descended from Cain and doomed to be wicked and cursed. Grendel is portrayed as clearly evil in the epic, but we can infer that the monster is not at ease with himself considering his heritage and his insatiable blood lust.

Again, epics are mostly action-based, so it's no surprise that Beowulf is a poem with more examples of external conflict than internal conflict. 

catrip1024 | Student

Both characters struggles with internal and external conflict although they recognize it differently.  Beowulf has less internal conflict with his actions.  He sees his murderous ways as necessary to keep order in the kingdom and to advance his "career".  Grendel is his largest external conflict.  He believes he is doing the noble thing by killing Grendel and keeping the men safe.  Grendel does show moments of internal conflict when killing the men.  He doesn't want to kill them, but they are his source of food, so he feels it is necessary.  He has multiple sources of external conflict simply for the fact that he is seen as a monster.  He views any violence against those as simply self defense.  The most notable humanization comes when he grieves his mother, for which Beowulf shows no conflict.