Provide examples of literary conflict in "Beowulf".  

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caledon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Man vs. Man

There are numerous man-vs-man conflicts throughout Beowulf; if you consider Grendel and his mother to be human by virtue of their descent from Cain, who was human, then you could consider those primary conflicts to be man vs. man. Regardless of this dubious conviction, there are many other man vs. man conflicts, such as the battles between the Swedes and Geats in which Ongentheow slew Haethcyn (2924) and was in turn slain by Hygelac's thanes (2980). In less deadly terms, there is also the tale of Beowulf's contest with Breca (499) which is in turn spawned by Unferth's challenge to Beowulf's pride and competence.


Man vs. God

A number of times, characters are cautioned against acts contrary to the will of God (or, in some cases, fate, although the two are also conflated at other points in the text). One significant point is early in the story, when some of Hrothgar's priests resort to pagan offerings in the hope they will be delivered from Grendel (175) but are said to, in fact, be "pondering hell". 


Man vs. Self

At various points the confidence of several characters is shaken; Hrothgar, for example, on learning that his good friend Aeschere has died, seems overcome with grief, until Beowulf reminds him that vengeance is better than mourning (1383). Likewise, Beowulf is briefly beset by uncharacteristic anxiety and gloom when the dragon's destruction begins, though he assures himself with the confidence of his lifetime of victories (2328).


Man vs. Society

Hrothgar relates that Beowulf's father, Ecgtheow (459) was exiled for killing a rival from the Wylfings, for which his own tribe could not or would not pay the cost in gold to avoid an armed reprisal. Beowulf himself is said to have been held in little regard, and considered weak, by the Geats prior to his defeat of Grendel, though his conduct demonstrated his worth (2183).