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MonkeyNotes Study Guide Summary-Beowulf by Anonymous-Free Book Notes
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CHARACTER ANALYSIS

Wiglaf

Wiglaf, one of Beowulf's brave young men, proves his loyalty to his master during the poem. When Beowulf is knocked down to the ground by the dragon, all of the thanes flee in fear, except for Wiglaf. Not only does he stand by his leader, he is willing to sacrifice his own life in an attempt to save Beowulf from the dragon. He tries to attract the monster's attention away from Beowulf and towards himself. When Beowulf sees his trusted thane fighting the dragon with him, he feels encouraged. He picks himself up and slays the dragon. Like Hrothgar and Beowulf, Wiglaf proves himself to be good, virtuous, loyal, and brave.

Before Beowulf dies from the mortal wound inflicted by the dragon, he gives Wiglaf some specific instructions about finding the dragon's gold and building a large funeral pyre and rich barrow to honor him after his death. When the time comes, Wiglaf carefully carries out his leaders' instructions. When the cowardly thanes reappear, Wiglaf chastises them severely, saying that death is preferable to cowardice. He adds that cowardice among the Geats has become a national weakness and serves as an invitation for hostile enemies to attack. Wiglaf's prophecies prove true. When he inherits the kingship of a weakened Geatland, Wiglaf knows that he will soon have to fight the much stronger Swedes, who will take advantage of the Geatish cowardice.


The Monsters

The monsters are the symbols of evil in the poem and are sharply contrasted against the virtues of the good characters, such as Beowulf and Wiglaf, making them appear even better. Since Beowulf is able to slay them all (Grendel, Grendel's mother, and the dragon), he is made to seem like a super hero.

Grendel is the first monster that appears in the poem and becomes the symbol of "fallen mankind." He is a mammoth, repulsive, violent, and gruesome looking creature with a human shape. But his strength and appearance make him seem almost satanic. He is a descendant of Cain, who committed the first murder in the Bible when he killed his brother Abel. Like Cain, Grendel has been cursed and permanently denied God's presence. Jealous of Hrothgar's popularity and happiness, he inflicts years of terror on the Danes and becomes the curse that brings Beowulf to the king's palace.

As he approaches the Heorot on the night that Beowulf is waiting for him, Grendel has no idea of what lies ahead. He assumes that the cowardly Danes will simply shrink away in fear of him once more. But Beowulf, the strongest man alive, is in the Heorot. Like Grendel, Beowulf is not armed. The two of them will fight it out on their own resources. Grendel, however, is unable to put up much of a fight against the strength of Beowulf . Realizing that he is losing, he tries to escape. Enraged by the monster's cowardice, Beowulf grabs him by his arm and pulls it out of its socket. Although Grendel does not die in Heorot Hall, his death is clearly foreshadowed. In fact, when Beowulf fights Grendel's mother, he sees the corpse of Grendel and cuts off his head to show as a "trophy".

Grendel's mother is appropriately called the "troll woman" and the "she monster;" there is a deadly and eerie aura about her. Although she is old, she is very sly and devious. She is enraged that Beowulf has caused the death of her son and seeks revenge. She sneaks into the Heorot, grabs the missing arm of her son, and snatches one of the king's favorite retainers. She then flees back to her murky lake, hoping to fight the enemy on her own turf. When Hrothgar begs Beowulf to follow her, the brave Geat obliges. He arrives at her dwelling, a lake boiling with blood. Beowulf does not hesitate but jumps in to find Grendel's mother. He soon severs her head.

The dragon is more dangerous and violent than Grendel and his mother. A horrible, fire-breathing beast, he is filled with greed, malice, and ire; he is truly a symbol of evil and a representative of Satan. When a Geat dares to steal from him, he strikes out in revenge. Beowulf, still filled with self-confidence in spite of his advancing age, does out to slay the horrible dragon. In the fight, Beowulf is fatally wounded by the monster, but he is able to slay the dragon before he dies.

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