what does Beowulf symbolize?  

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I believe that this question is asking about the character of Beowulf rather than the story as a whole. Beowulf is a classic example of an amazing and legendary hero type. His character is in line with modern day heroes like Captain America, Thor, and Batman; therefore, Beowulf symbolizes many of the same things that those other characters are symbolic of.

A good way to start is to ask yourself what it is that you think of when you think about Beowulf. Beowulf is the good guy hero of this poem. He symbolically represents heroism, bravery, selflessness, and strength. Keep in mind that he willingly chooses to fight a demon monster who eats people and has defeated everyone else. Sure, Beowulf is confident about his chances, but he isn't invincible. As for strength, we are told that he has the strength of 30 men. Additionally, he's strong enough to rip the arms off of Grendel. Beowulf shows readers that he is selfless through his acts of bravery to help others less capable, but he also shows selflessness by turning down the riches and power that he is offered as a thank you for defeating the forces of evil in the poem.

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