The Contrast of Men and Monsters in Beowulf
English 9C


The book Beowulf consists of many sets of opposites, such as light and dark, Heaven and Hell, and day and night. There is always a negative opposite and a positive opposite. The most important oppositional set around which the book is based around is men and monsters. Although it is arguable whether they are really opposites, they are shown as opposites in the book.

Monsters are often associated with other negative opposites. For example the monster, Grendel, only came out to terrorize Heorot at night. In another example of the association between monsters and darkness, Beowulf kills Grendel’s mother the hall lights up, implying that she was the cause of the darkness:

“So the Shieldings’ hero, hard-pressed and enraged, took a firm hold of the hilt and swung the blade in an arc, a resolute blow that bit deep into her neck bone and severed it entirely, toppling the doomed house of her flesh; she fell to the floor. The sword dripped blood, the swordsman was elated. A light appeared and the place brightened the way the sky does when heaven’s candle is shinning clearly” (Heaney, p.109)

Another set of opposites is Heorot and Grendel’s mother’s hall. Heorot was full of light, people, and laughter while Grendel’s mother’s hall was dark, lonely, and cheerless. The reason Grendel attacked Heorot was probably because he was jealous of the people, and angry that they and left him out.

“So times were pleasant for the people there until finally one, a fiend out of hell, began to work his evil in the world. Grendel was the name of this grim demon haunting the marches, marauding round the heath and the desolate fens; he had dwelt for a time in misery among the banished monsters, Cain’s clan, whom the Creator had outlawed and condemned as outcasts.” (Heaney, p.9)

Hell is another thing monsters are associated with. All monsters originally descended from Cain. Cain was the son of Adam and Eve and was responsible for committing the first murder by killing his brother Abel. However, Cain was originally human, and although monsters are from hell, humans are not from heaven.

Like yin and yang, both monsters and humans have a little of each other in them. Humans can be monsters, and monsters can be human. For example, Unferth is a human being a monster. Although he looks and acts human, he murdered someone in his family, as Cain did. Although Grendel’s mother is considered a monster, she committed no monstrous acts in the book. The only murder she committed was done to avenge her son’s death, which is no worse than what Beowulf did to Grendel.

There is no real difference between monsters and humans except for their appearance. Although they appear to be opposites at first, they are still the same category. One reason why monsters are considered evil is that they kill people. Grendel attacked Heorot because he was jealous. Jealousy is a human emotion.

Another reason would be that they are uncivilized. However, it is impossible to be civilized without being part of a community. No community would accept Grendel because of his looks and his being related to Cain.

Grendel did not come out at night because he enjoyed the darkness. He came out at night because he was embarrassed of the way he looked, and did not want people to see him. This led people to associate monsters with darkness. That is why it is written that when Grendel’s mother died the hall grew lighter.

Another set of opposites that parallels men and monsters is kings and dragons. Dragons are the kings of monsters. They are the opposite of human kings, but still in the same category. Good human kings keep very few treasures for themselves. Instead, they distribute the treasure among the people, so that they will be loyal. Dragons rule over no one. They hoard all their treasure and kill anything that tries to take it.

As humans can become monsters, kings can become dragons. King Heremod was a king who became a dragon, because he separated himself from his people and hoarded the treasure.

“He vented his rage on men he caroused with, killed his own comrades, a pariah king who