Beowulf Questions and Answers

Beowulf book cover
Start Your Free Trial

What do the characters Grendel, Grendel's mother, and the dragon symbolize in Beowulf?  

Expert Answers info

Jay Gilbert, Ph.D. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

briefcaseCollege Lecturer

bookB.A. from University of Oxford

bookM.A. from University of Oxford

bookPh.D. from University of Leicester

calendarEducator since 2017

write2,287 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Law and Politics

The above answer gives a great explanation of how the Christian scribe who wrote down Beowulf as it exists today would have seen these characters—or wanted his readers to see the characters—within the poem. As that educator has also noted, however, Beowulf did not begin life as a Christian text. The Christian elements in Beowulf are later interpolations, and in many ways they sit oddly alongside the pagan context in which Beowulf and his warriors actually live.

The Germanic society depicted in Beowulf is set in a pre-Christian time, and this is observable in the way that Beowulf, Hrothgar and the others enact kingship and social customs. Within the context of this society, then, Grendel represents the outsider, or the "other." He's connected to Cain in the final version of the poem, but this is largely just because the Christian reader would understand what Cain symbolized—someone who had strayed away from "good" society and become something other than what was acceptable.

The Anglo-Saxons...

(The entire section contains 2 answers and 774 words.)

Unlock This Answer Now

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

Lorna Stowers eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2011

write4,625 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Social Sciences, and History

check Approved by eNotes Editorial