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"A Swamp Thing from Hell: the Representation of Feminity in Beowulf

  • Date Submitted: 12/02/2010 03:12 PM
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“A Swamp-Thing From Hell”: The Representation of Femininity in Beowulf

EN 245: The Literary Tradition I
Instructor: Dr. Edwin Jewinski
Tutorial Group: Elizabeth
Student: Shauna Leeson
Date: November 29th, 2010

Within in the elegiac narrative of Beowulf, Beowulf purges the Danes not only of Grendel‘s serial terror, but the heroic Geat further triumphs in destroying Grendel’s vengeful and violent hungry mother. Upon closer analysis of the character of Grendel’s mother, a tension suggestively arising from the text as to how the reader should interpret this figure; a empowered matriarch, or an illogical and primitive female? The argument of this analysis shall side with the latter interpretation, as Grendel’s mother is presented as a hybrid, demonic creature, who’s sovereignty is limited to the natural spaces of beasts and water she governs. Presented as nameless, illogical in acts of revenge, cowardly and existing outside the human world, Grendel’s mother’s defeat becomes symbolic of her inability to penetrate the instruments of a hypermasculine, male dominated civilization. Therefore, through a feminist perspective, Grendel’s mother becomes an antagonist of inferiority and “otherness”, rather then a foe equal in integrity and strength.
Despite the power and ruthlessness of Grendel’s mother’s “brutal grip”, her power is paired with a hybrid and beastly appearance. She is described by the poet as baring “savage talons”, swimming in a “wolfish” manner, existing as a “swamp-thing from hell”, and thriving in reptile infested waters. (Il. 1504, 1506, 1518) The implications of such descriptors project Grendel’s mother as a creature outside human physicality and domain,   a anomaly of nature, advocating that she is defined by hybridity. Also, upon defeating her, Beowulf is described “toppling the doomed house of her flesh,” associating Grendel’s mother with a fallen or sinful race. Therefore, a sense of mystery, monstrosity, or otherness is transfixed to her...

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