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Essay/Term paper: The hero

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Beowulf

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English Literature 261

The Hero

Zorro, Lassie, Hercules, and Beowulf all have something in common, they are all

considered hero"s. It does not matter if the hero is a man, woman, animal or an intimate object

that springs to life. It does not matter where the hero comes from or how old he or she is. The

only thing that a hero needs to do to be a hero, according to Joseph Campbell, is follows a

predefined path of a hero and have some common characteristics of one, too. Joseph Campbell in

one of the most knowledgeable people on the subject of a hero. According to Joseph Campbell

many hero"s have completed the same deed over and over again throughout history. He points out

that a hero is not limited to one particular time or place. Campbell explains the details about what

makes a hero a hero in his discussion The Hero"s Journey. The story of the hero must have a

mystical quality. A hero"s characteristics should include doing something beyond the normal

range of a human and giving up one"s life for something bigger. A hero"s sequence of events is

began by the hero intentionally setting out on ones own to complete a physical deed for a moral

objective. The hero is trying to shape a savage world out of his existing world. The hero departs

from his home to fulfill his deed and then returns home again. The hero undergoes a mental

development throughout the story through different trials that he or she is facing. This transforms

the heroes state of consciousness. The hero learns to live in the system in which he or she is and

does not fall victim to it. Lastly whatever is accomplished by the hero is lost when he or she dies.

In the story of Beowulf the main character follows Campbell"s outline of a hero. It is an

Anglo-Saxon poem that recounts the life of the hero Beowulf and this poem is one of the oldest

existing poems in the English language.

First of all for a hero to be a hero he needs to be present in a story that has a mystical

quality about it, according to Campbell. The reader can see this mystical quality in Beowulf

everywhere he or she looks. First of all as the story begins it talks of a tribe of people, called the

Danes, rescuing a castaway baby at sea. The baby that the tribe rescues turns out later to be their

king. Another mystical quality that the story has is its monsters. Grendel, Grendel"s Mother, and

the dragon are all foes that intend on killing Beowulf in the story. Each monster possesses strength

and powers beyond the range of any human. The hero himself bring a mystical quality to the story

by also possessing strength beyond the range of any other human. The story even possesses a

mystical because of a sword that is in it. The sword that Beowulf fights Grendel"s Mother with is

stronger than any sword ever made by man because is forged by giants.

For a hero to be a hero he has to possess certain characteristics which make him one. One

of these characteristics is doing something beyond the normal range of a human. Beowulf does

this each time that he fights a monster. When Beowulf fights Grendel it says that while the two

were struggling Grendel "Knew at once that nowehere on earth/Had he met a man whose hands

were harder"(Raffel 46). A monster that no other man could fight before with weapons and win,

Beowulf fought without any weapon and won. When Beowulf fought Grendel"s Mother, he goes

into a lake that no other man has ever went into before and came out alive. While in the cave

under the lake Beowulf fight a battle with a sword forged by giants that no other man could lift

and wins that battle, too. Beowulf carries the head of Grendel, which was in the cave with his

mother, back to his men by himself. It takes four of his fellow warriors to carry the head of

Grendel that Beowulf carried by himself. Finally when Beowulf is fighting the dragon after being

bitten in the neck and filled with poison he still manages to kill the dragon and talk to his only

loyal warrior for a few minutes before he dies.

Besides doing something beyond the normal range of a human, Beowulf also gives up his

life for something bigger than himself. This is another characteristic of a hero according to

Campbell. Beowulf gives up his life to save his people when he is king. Since no other warrior

will fight the dragon that is plundering the village Beowulf must go to defend his land. Beowulf"s

shield is melted while he is fighting and the dragon takes his chance and bites Beowulf in the

neck and injects poison into him. This is a fatal wound but Beowulf still kills the dragon by

stabbing him. Beowulf"s wound is to great and he dies after saving his land from the horrible


Other than having the characteristics of a hero, a character must also follow the path that is

predefined for the hero, accourding to Campbell. The first step on this path is the hero must

intentionally sets out on his or her own to complete a physical deed with a moral objective. He

decides to leave his homeland and go to the land of the Danes. Beowulf plans on defending the

Danes from a monster he has heard about that is attacking the mead hall. Beowulf sails off with

his fellow warriors to the land of the Danes and go to visti Hrothgar, the Danes king. Once there

Beowulf announces that he is going to rid the land of Grendel. The reason Beowulf gives for

helping Hrothgar defeat Grendel is that long ago Hrothgar once protected Beowulf"s father,

Ectheow, in a time of exile. The physical deed that Beowulf carries out is killing Grendel. The

two fight a hard battle in the mead hall the night that Beowulf arrives. Beowulf defeats the

monster by ripping his arm off from the shoulder down. In the morning everyone comes and sees

Beowulf"s triumph.

Another step, according to Campbell, is the hero departs from his home to fulfill a deed

and then return home again. Beowulf leaves the only land that he has ever know to go and fight a

monster that is terrorizing another land. Beowulf goes and slays two monsters. Fist he slays

Grendel. Grendel is defeated, but a second problem arrises. When Grendel"s Mother finds that

her son is dead she is enraged and vows revenge on the people who did this. Beowulf then has to

fight Grendel"s Mother because she attacked Herot, the mead hall, and kills Aeschere, the kings

most trusted thane. After slaying the mother Beowulf goes back home to see his own king.

Another step on the path to becomming a hero, according to Campbell, is to shape a

savage world out of the existing one. Beowulf does this by fighting for what is right in the world.

When ever a monster threatenes to destroy something in the land he is in he goes and fights it.

When Grendel threatenes the Danes, Beowulf kills Grendel by pulling off his arm. When

Grendel"s Mother threatenes the Danes, Beowulf goes into a dark lake to a cave and slays her

with a mystical sword. When a dragon comes and threatenes to destroy the entire land of the

Geats, Beowulf goes and slayes it. Even when Beowulf is king of the Geats he is shaping a

savage world into a tame one. For the fifty years that Beowulf rules there is no type of violence

happening in his land.

The next step that is on the path to becomming a hero is that of the mental development

through trials which transformes the heros state of consciouseness. The reader sees the

transformation in Beowulf each time he prepares to go and fight a monster. At first when

Beowulf is fighting Grendel he wares no helment, uses no sword and carries no shield. He goes

into the battle completely unarmed and expects to win easily. The next battle that Beowulf fights

is against Grendel"s Mother. For this battle Beowulf does not go in empty handed. Beowulf now

barrows a sword and puts on a suit of armor and a helment. He now assumes that he is going to

need more than just courage to fight the monster at the bottom of the lake. The last battle that

Beowulf fights he puts on every type of defensive device he can find. Not only does he put on a

suit of armor, a helment, and take a sword, he has a shield made just for this battle. Each time the

reader can see that Beowulf is becomming wiser in his decisions and his state of consciousness is


Another step that a hero takes, according to Campbell, is to take care of his moral

obligations. Each time that Beowulf went into battle he did so because of a moral obligation. The

first obligation he has is to Hrothgar for saving his father a long time ago. Since Hrothgar did

save Beowulf"s father Beowulf decides that he is obligated to help out the king when he is in

trouble and being discraced. The next moral obligation that Beowulf has is to kill Grendel"s

Mother since it his fault she is attacking the mead hall. Grendel"s Mother is upset because her son

is dead and she plans on taking revenge out on Hrothgar"s people. The next moral obligation that

Beowulf has is to turn over the riches that he received when he goes back home. All of the gold

and jewels and battle equipment that Hrothgar gives to Beowulf for his protection he gives to his

king. The last moral obligation that Beowulf fulfills is to fight the dragon plundering the land

when he is king. Since no one will fight the monster it is up to Beowulf to defeand his people.

The next step that is in the sequence is to live in a system and not be eaten by it. Beowulf

tells the reader that he did this when he is reflecting back on his life before he goes to fight the

dragon. He reviews his life with no feelings of regret or guilt because he knows that he has

followed the laws of his society. Beowulf did everything which he is supposed to do throughtout

his life and at no time does he become a corrupt person who is only interseted in his own well


The last step in the process is that whatever is gained by the hero is lost when he or she is

gone. This happens in Beowulf because Beowulf gives his life protecting his land and winning

treasure from a dragon. After Beowulf"s death the land is going to be at war and the peace he has

worked tried to maintain for fifty years will be lost. The treasure that Beowulf won by killing the

dragon is locked up inside the tomb in which Beowulf is buried and will never be seen again.

In concluding a hero is formed by the characteristics he or she possesses and the path that

he or she follows according to Joseph Campbell. The story itself must have a mystic quality

about it. The sword and the monsters provide this quality in Beowulf. The characteristics that the

character needs to be a hero are to do something beyong the normal range of a human and giving

up ones life for something bigger than him or herself. Beowulf is stronger than any other mand

and gives his life to protect his people. To be a hero a character must also follow the path of a

hero. First by setting out on one"s own to complete a physical deed for a moral obligation.

Beowulf leaves Geatland on his own to kill Grendel to repay Hrothgar for his kindness to his

father. Fulfilling each moral obligation is a step on the path of being a hero. Beowulf kills each

monster because of a moral obligation and gives his king the riches he receives from each because

it is his moral obligation to do so. A character departs from his or her home to go on an adventure

and then return home again. Beowulf leavs his land to kills two monsters and then returns home

again. Next a character will shape and savage world and through trials transform to a different

state of counciousness. By fighting monsters and ruling the land Beowulf grows smarter and less

selfish than he was before. The last step is to live in a system and finally have everything that is

gained by the character lost. Beowulf lives in his system without becomming corrupt and in the

end the peace and treasure that he fought for is lost by his people. When a character has the

characteristics and follows the correct path then he or she is a hero. Beowulf is a hero. 

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