In the epic Beowulf, the only complete Old English epic that has survived to present day, the protagonist Beowulf fights three significant battles. During these three battles against Grendel, Grendel s mother, and the dragon, Beowulf uses his strength and bravery to defeat each of the foes encountered. Beowulf uses several of his character traits to help him as he conquers his enemies. When one is analyzing a story such as this, one must break the story down to its fundamental levels. On the most fundamental level, the battles Beowulf fights vary in several ways. One of these ways is the revenge factor.
Although revenge is a factor in some of his battles, he continues to be victorious. So one has to ask oneself, does revenge make the battles unsure? If so, the battles differ in many ways, on different levels. Thus, each battle differs in the fact that each successive battle is less pure and more difficult. The first battle Beowulf versus Grendel contains some of the elements aforementioned. The fight is being fought as revenge against Grendel for all the horror he has wreaked upon the people. Thus the revenge factor comes into play.
Beowulf also has no aid and simply uses his strength and cunning against Grendel. So in fundamental analy zation, one can see that this indeed is the most pure battle he fights because although revenge is involved, he wins with no aid, and uses nothing but strength and skill to win. As far as difficulty is concerned, in the story this battle is described as a relatively easy one for Beowulf. Secondly speaking is the battle Beowulf versus Grendel s mother.
The purity level of this battle takes a plunge, for it has the revenge factor exponential ized to the second degree. Grendel s mother is avenging her son's death, a death that occurred through revenge on Beowulf s behalf. Though instead of Grendel s mother coming to face Beowulf on Beowulf s home turf, as in the first battle, Beowulf is forced to go to the mother's lair to fight her. This is one of the major differences with the first battle, home field advantage per se.
Another major difference that makes this battle less pure, is the use of a weapon. In the first battle, no weapon is used by Beowulf. As opposed to this battle in which Beowulf must use a weapon to defeat Grendel s mother. As far as difficulty is concerned, the book describes this battle as far more difficult for Beowulf.
Thus we can see each successive battle losing purity and gaining difficulty. Third, is the battle versus the Dragon. Though this story follows the inverse relationship between purity and difficulty, the device through which such is accomplished changes sharply. In this instance about fifty years have passed since the last battle.
Beowulf is monarch and leader of his people now. A traditional adventure story might have stopped after the second battle, but this story uses the third battle as a device to show what happens to a hero as he becomes monarch. As far as purity and difficulty are concerned, this battle is a combination of all the battles. The dragon attacks Beowulf s subjects because it was wronged, which is the revenge factor.
Beowulf must also go to the dragon lair to kill it, this being the same home turf device used in the aforementioned second battle. Beowulf must also use weapons and help from Wig laf, a young thane. All of these factors make this battle the least pure of them all. As far as difficulty is concerned it is Beowulf s age at the time of the battle that makes this one far more difficult then the rest, the end result being of course, the loss of life by both the dragon and Beowulf.
In conclusion, through fundamental character analysis and plot dissection, one can clearly see the relationship of purity and difficulty pertaining to the battles. Though the motive for the battles may not be less pure, the manner through which the battles were endured is. Although the battles contrast sharply, one can simply not overlook the similarities that exist, such as the ongoing struggle between good and evil, the religious symbolism, and leadership.