Beowulf

Antagonist

Beowulf’s antagonists are the three monsters: he literally combats them, and these three fights form the three major episodes of the poem. All three monsters are charismatic and mysterious, and readers have disagreed about what they represent. Some readers have seen them as symbols of different flaws in the pagan Northern European warrior code. To these readers, Grendel represents the envy and resentment of defeated peoples, his mother represents the endless cycle of blood-vengeance, and the dragon represents greed for treasure. Other readers have argued that the monsters’ symbolism is more universal: they represent death, evil, or the dangers that lurk beyond the limits of human knowledge. Yet another interpretation of the monsters is as embodiments of Beowulf’s own darknesses. He shares Grendel’s outsider status, Grendel’s mother’s lust for vengeance, and the dragon’s treasure-greed and pride. One of the things that makes Beowulf an enduring work of art is that the monsters are complex and unknowable, as all truly terrifying opponents must be. Every generation can find in Beowulf’s battles a reflection of their own most painful and glorious struggles.