Can anyone explain the representation of evil and its significance in the poem "Beowulf"?

Expert Answers
Jamie Wheeler eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The most visible representation of evil is that of the monster Grendel and his equally monstrous mother. The narrator of the poem explains:

"...a fiend out of hell,

began to work his evil in the world.

Grendel was the name of the grim demon


he had dwelt for a time in misery among the banished monsters,

Cain's clan, whom the Creator had outlawed,

Condemned as outcasts" (100-108).

Less obvious symbols of evil are in the acts of man which go against God's law: greed, pride, and lust. The speaker repeatedly points out that human hubris is ultimately the downfall of mankind, and the source for all evil in the world:

"The truth is clear," he says, "Almighty God rules over mankind / and always has" (700-703).

Yet men are apt to forget this, believing in their delusions that they are immortal. The speaker reminds those who think themselves gods of their foolishness:

"But death is not easily

escaped by anyone:

all of us with souls, earth-dwellers

and children of men, must make our way

to a destination already ordained

where the body, after the banqueting,

sleeps on its deathbead" (1000-1007).

You can access free, online lessons for Beowulf as well as discussion questions (where you can either view the history of or participate in) by clicking on the second link below.