Deciding what is the best choice for others and deciding what choice is best for us is an ongoing battle. Sometimes the best choice for you might not be the best for others, which deems us selfish. The remaining times, the best choice for others might not be the best choice for us, which judges us as people pleasers. Most audiences can relate to the story of Beowulf because we all battle through these similar conflicts daily.
Throughout the poem Beowulf, the audience becomes conscious of the fact that the characters of this time period are continuously fighting two contradicting battles; an external battle between the vicious monsters and an internal battle with human habits of pride, cowardice and self-concern. Beowulf deals with one huge internal problem: pride. Beowulf tries to convince Hrothgar that he is an honorary warrior and to trust him that he can get rid of Grendel. During his boast, Beowulf brags that “they have seen my strength for themselves, have watched me rise from the darkness of war, dripping with my enemies’ blood” (417-419).
Beowulf tries to balance out his pride in his boast by telling Hrothgar that he isn’t just bragging about himself- his fellow Swedes have also seen him fresh and victorious out of battle. Beowulf’s attempt to proposing battle comes off as somewhat selfish, arrogant and exudes pride in himself. In this round between pride and Beowulf, pride overtook him. Continuing in his boast/proposal to Hrothgar, Beowulf asks “What man, anywhere under Heaven’s high arch, has fought in such darkness, endured more misery or been harder pressed? Yet I survived…” (575-577).
Beowulf’s diction makes it seem as if he has undergone far worse battles and situations than any man “under Heaven’s high arch” and still remained triumphant. Beowulf’s pride in himself is clearly displayed here and obviously forgets that he must remain humble even though he is a highly prized warrior. Hand in hand with pride comes cowardice. During Beowulf’s last battle with the revengeful dragon, he had become engulfed in the dragon’s flames and “none of his comrades came to him, helped him, his brave and noble followers; they ran for their lives” (2596-2598).
All throughout Beowulf’s reign as king, his followers were obedient, loyal and attentive to his needs; except for now- the only true moment when Beowulf is completely helpless, none of his closest friends come to his aid. “When the going gets tough, the tough get going”. Their faintheartedness reveals that they are only humans, still battling their human tendencies. The last human tendency that Beowulf fights is the one of self-concern, or selfishness, rather. At the beginning of the poem Beowulf convinces Hrothgar to let him take on the battle with Grendel.
Beowulf pleads, “Grant me, then, Lord and protector of this noble place, a single request! …That this one favor you should not refuse me” (426-430). Beowulf begs for Hrothgar to allow him to fight this monster, not only to kill him, but to put another big mark on his resume. This example also helps the audience understand how Beowulf is trying to find a middle ground to satisfy his needs to fight the external battle between the monsters and his internal battle of self concern. While this is true, Beowulf is also dealing with an external, physical battle between himself and the monsters that are terrorizing the land.
The first monster that the audience is introduced to is named Grendel. Beowulf thought Grendel would be an easy kill until they found out that “they could hack at Grendel from every side, trying to open a path for his evil soul, but their points could not hurt him, the sharpest and hardest iron could not scratch at his skin, for that sin-stained demon had bewitched all men’s weapons” (798-803). Grendel would only be able to be killed by Beowulf’s own hands sans weapons. It took a lot of physical strength for Beowulf to keep the battle with Grendel going until he had killed him.
Even though Beowulf had not killed him, he was determined to keep fighting this external battle until he had become triumphant. Further, after Grendel had been killed, Grendel’s mom appears to get revenge on Beowulf for killing her son. Beowulf was in an underwater battle and “he was weary, that best and strongest of soldiers; his feet stumbled and in an instant she had him down, held helpless” (1541-1544). Physically Beowulf was defenseless because Grendel’s mother wasn’t going down without a quality fight with Beowulf.
The last and final battle that Beowulf endures is the one with the dragon. Beowulf’s strength and equipment could not help him in this battle because Beowulf “lifted what was left of Nagling, his ancient sword and swung it with all his strength. But then Nagling broke to pieces” (2678-2682). This was not quite a fair battle between Beowulf and the dragon because the dragon’s skin was far too tough to be punctured with any type of weapon. Once he realizes this, he knows that this will be his final battle. This external battle contrasts to the internal battles that Beowulf fights.
The external fights leave him physically distraught and tired, while his internal battles leave him emotionally and mentally fatigued. In contrast to the fact Beowulf is a story of dual ordeals, some audiences think that Beowulf is just a story of battles involving monsters and dragons- it’s only a story of the external battles that Beowulf goes through. This opinion shows Beowulf as just a static character with one side to him: a big strong warrior who fights the supernatural. Beowulf is first introduced to the readers as “the strongest of the Geats- greater and stronger than anyone anywhere in this world” (195-196).
First descriptions set the stage and background of characters and these descriptions stick to the readers mind during the story. The audience who judges the book as only being stories of external battles think that all the reader will hear about is what a great strong warrior Beowulf is. This contrasts to the idea that Beowulf is a story of both internal AND external battles. Also, Beowulf does admit to the fact that “I’ve never known fear; as a youth I fought in endless battles” (2511-2512). In Beowulf’s younger years, all he did was fight battles. That’s all that happened in the story, period.
Because he accepted the fact that all he did was fight battles, this contributes to the idea that the story of Beowulf is only about the external battles that Beowulf faces, making him a static character. All of the characters of Beowulf are continuously fighting two contradicting battles; an external battle between the vicious monsters and an internal battle with human habits of pride, cowardice and self-concern. These ideas make sure to the reader that the story is not just about fighting monsters, dragons and angry mothers; they are also dealing with the fact that they are still humans dealing with selfish human tendencies.