Archetypes of Beowulf.

There are stories everyone in the world are familiar with. Books such as The Lion King, movies like Surfs Up, and plays from Shakespeare represent common plots, characters, obstacles, and endings. These stories are all based on universal characters and situations disguised differently and recognized as archetypes. In Beowulf, archetypes are evident; the story of a far- away hero coming to battle to save a king from a demon’s wrath contains many archetypes. Three of which are the hero, the outcast, and the task. Beowulf symbolizes the hero; Grendel represents the outcast; Beowulf’s battle to kill Grendel is the task. Together, they create an entertaining story since the Anglo-Saxon time.

            The hero needs to have great strength or some power and the will to hunt for evil to cleanse the world from bad. In Beowulf, the hero, Beowulf, begins by volunteering to slay the monster and free the Danes from the horror. Before the battle, Beowulf is described to have experiences with such monsters when he “destroyed a family of giants” and killed “water monsters, grinding them to bits” (Beowulf). This qualifies him to be strong and brave. Soon, he and his Geat warriors wait for the monster, the hideous Grendel. When Grendel attacks and Beowulf fights, “The glory of battle went to Beowulf, and Grendel, mortally wounded, sought his sad home under the fen slope” (Beowulf). The following lines prove Beowulf to be a brave hero because he fights and defeats the monster. Although the story might have been altered throughout the time, Beowulf’s strength, courage, and longing to fight evil is what makes him a hero then and now to everyone who reads the tale.

            There would be no hero if there was not a villain; however, in this case, Grendel embodies the archetype of the outcast. He lives in a water lair away from society because of what he is. In the story, the author, unknown, speaks of Grendel. “He [Grendel] was of a race of monsters exiled from mankind by God—he was of the race of Cain that man punished for murdering his brother. From that family comes all evil beings—monsters, elves, zombies, also giants who fought with God and got repaid with the flood” (Beowulf). In the passage, the author states that Grendel was forced to live alone due to his ancestor’s sin. He and his family were all products of evil and will forever be outcasts in society never allowed to mingle with men. Grendel is the paradigm for an outcast because he is an outsider from everything. It is not just society that bans him from the world but also God, who banished his type from mankind.

            If the characters fit the archetypes, there has to be a situation that fits the problem between the two. In Beowulf, the situation is the task, another archetype. The task is a duty that the main character must fulfill to have a personal gain as well as a sense of accomplishment. Beowulf is one of those heroes who want to find evil just to make the world a better place. As a result, his task is to get rid of the demon to free the Danes. At first, when Beowulf and his men arrive at the shore, he speaks to the protector of the coast. He tells him the following: “You know if it is true what we have heard, that a dark enemy in the nights works violence and slaughter on the Danes… Perhaps in kindness I may advise Hrothgar how he, wise and famous, may overcome this enemy—if change will ever come, relief from this evil—and how this seething sorrow might become cool. Otherwise, he will suffer tribulation as long as he lives in that high place, the best of houses” (Beowulf). The passage reveals two things about the task. One, the task is voluntary, courtesy of the hero. Two, the task is to get rid of the “dark enemy” (Beowulf). To wrap up, Beowulf or the hero needs to complete his task of overpowering Grendel, the dangerous outcast, in order to be the archetype he truly is.

            In conclusion, Beowulf contains archetypes such as the hero, the outcast, and the task. The fearless hero, Beowulf, battles the evil outcast, Grendel, to complete his task of freeing the innocent people from bad. Other than Beowulf, many stories contain archetypes, which are common situations and characters rewritten into different scenarios. From the rewrite of Disney’s Pocahontas into James Cameron’s Avatar in 2009 (VandeBerg) to stories from villages in Europe into William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Archetypes are like a costume which many writers and story- tellers use after they switch up the setting, time period, and characters. Shown in Beowulf and other stories with archetypes, the combination of the archetypes is important to literature and the history of mankind. They create a story for everyone to enjoy and understand despite the time period and language it was written in. Together, they tell not only stories that are passed on from ages but also the history of the world we live in today.

Works Cited

“The Adventures of Beowulf.” Austin Website Design – Austin Website Hosting – Lone Star Internet. Web. 16 June 2010. <>.

VandeBerg, James. “Avatar: Pocahontas Meets Internet-age Sci Fi | The Daily Illini.” The Daily Illini | The Independent Student Newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871. 21 Dec. 2009. Web. 16 June 2010. <>.

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