What is the main problem in the story of Beowulf?  

The main problem in the story of Beowulf is the destruction of fragile human societies by evil, monstrous outsiders. Civilization is always precarious and may be destroyed at any moment. The problem intensifies at the end of the poem, when Beowulf can no longer protect the Geats from attack.

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There are three principal conflicts in Beowulf, as the hero battles first Grendel, then Grendel's mother, and finally the dragon. However, these are all the same type of problem: the incursion of the evil, monstrous outsider into the precarious civilization people have constructed for themselves. This civilization is not particularly sophisticated, either by modern standards or by those of Virgil or Homer. However, Heorot, the great mead-hall, serves for the Danes and the Geats as a symbol of light and human happiness, and it is the sounds of joy emanating from it that disturb Grendel, the creature of darkness.

The classical epics depict civilization as the norm. Homer's Trojans are just as noble as his Achaeans, and there is fairly close agreement between them on the code that should govern their behavior. Beowulf, by contrast, presents a conflict between light and darkness, and it is one that light is far from certain to win. At the end of the poem, Wiglaf believes the Geats will be destroyed by their neighbors, if not by another monster, since they showed such cowardice in failing to face the dragon. It takes a hero of almost superhuman strength and courage to preserve human society from the terrors that lurk in the surrounding darkness, and once Beowulf is gone, no such paragon is to be found.

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Beowulf encounters many "problems" in this epic poem. On the surface, these three "problems" can be identified as three different monsters whom Beowulf needs to fight.

The first monster Beowulf encounters is that of Grendel, who is attacking King Hrothgar's mead hall and killing all of his men. Beowulf arrives to defeat Grendel and save King Hrothgar's men from being butchered. However, once he defeats Grendel, Beowulf encounters another problem.

The second monster that Beowulf has to fight is Grendel's mother, for once Grendel returns home injured and dies, she seeks to avenge her son. Grendel's mother returns to King Hrothgar's mead hall and kills his best man in a type of "an eye for an eye" revenge killing. Beowulf must then confront Grendel's mother to ensure that all the evil of the land is gone forever.

The third and final monster Beowulf has to fight is a dragon who awakens and begins terrorizing Beowulf's land after a cup is stolen from its lair. It is during this fight that Beowulf perishes and relinquishes his land and power to the one soldier who stood by his side, Wiglaf.

However, something to note is that, although each of these monsters would be considered a "problem," the real underlying issue is the overall epic theme of good versus evil. Each monster Beowulf fights is a form of evil that must be overcome, and ultimately, Beowulf perishes at the end of the poem because he has an epic flaw that causes his demise. Once one succumbs to their innate desires (which can be viewed as a sin and therefore evil), they will die in mostly all epics.

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The main conflict in Beowulf is that of the human hero versus the monster. Although some degree of intelligence is required of the hero in planning tactics, the conflict is overwhelmingly physical; the hero overpowers the monster by means of strength and martial prowess.

There are three major fights of this type in the poem. First, the monster Grendel has been attacking King Hrothgar's mead hall, Heorot, and killing the Danish warriors inhabiting it. Beowulf and his men come to the defense of the Danes and eventually Beowulf triumphs over Grendel in single combat.

Next, Grendel's mother takes revenge for the death of her son by attacking Beowulf and the Danes. Beowulf tracks her back to her undersea lair and eventually decapitates her with his sword. 

The final conflict involves Beowulf defending his people from a dragon. In the battle, Beowulf succeeds in killing the dragon but dies from his wounds. 

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The main problem in the story of Beowulf is actually a little more difficult to pinpoint than you might think, because the poem actually incorporates three major conflicts. The first (and most famous) problem is the conflict between the monster Grendel and Hrothgar, the king of the Danes. It is this conflict that first brings Beowulf to Heorot to perform his deeds of heroism. After Beowulf defeats Grendel, however, he must then also fight and subdue Grendel's mother, who attacks Heorot to avenge her son's death. Following this conflict, Beowulf returns to his homeland, eventually becomes king, and then rules for many years before fighting an attacking dragon and dying in battle. As such, you can see that the poem revolves around three major problems (or conflicts), rather than one. However, if you had to pick one, single problem, then you could argue that the main problem of the story is the conflict between Beowulf and the Grendel family (which includes both Grendel and his mother), as this feud takes up the bulk of the poem once its two components are grouped together. 

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