In many ways, Beowulf is the simplest kind of epic there is. It's about the conflict between a courageous, mighty, loyal warrior and the demons and dragons of hell itself. The forces of good battle the forces of evil again and again, knowing that one day they will be defeated, but at least they'll die fighting. Of course, "good" in Beowulf means "strong, generous, and proud," and "evil" means "demonic creatures from the marshes." This particular battle between good and evil isn't as much about morals as it is about fate – and reputation.
Questions About Good vs. Evil
- Why is it important that Beowulf be depicted fighting demons and monsters, instead of fighting rival tribes or men? How do the kinds of antagonists Beowulf faces help to keep the conflict black and white?
- Are any of the tribes in the epic, such as the Danes, Geats, and Swedes, depicted as inherently good or evil – or do they all seem approximately equal? Do you as a reader take sides for or against any of these groups?
- God plays an extremely important role in Beowulf, as do supernatural demons and monsters, but there is no single focus of evil, such as the Devil, mentioned in the epic. Why do you think the poet chose to make the conflict between good and evil somewhat one-sided?
- Is Beowulf himself completely good, or does he have flaws?
Chew on This
Beowulf's most important conflicts are with demons and monsters, emphasizing that he is a heroic defender of humanity, rather than just one more strong-armed medieval warrior.
Beowulf can only take heroic action against fantastic creatures like demons and monsters, which suggests that real heroism is impossible in the context of mankind's wars between different tribes and factions.