Violence And Societal Change In Beowulf

1314 words - 5 pages

It is said that up to thirty thousand men may have died at the battle of Hastings, a conflict that occurred almost one thousand years ago. World War II, which lasted less than seven years, has been estimated to be responsible for up to forty million deaths. Thus, many people often ask the question why? Why does such conflict occur? Who or what is responsible? The culprit does not hide nor has it escaped scrutiny and blame. It comes in many shapes and sizes, faces and places. It is called violence and the potential for it resides in every single person on this earth. Whose violence conquers all? It is hard to measure the significance of violence, especially when it can cause so much destruction and death as well as stimulation. However, violence cannot simply be explained as male testosterone since women have and continue to demonstrate the ability to be violent as well. It also cannot be explained as a by-product of rage, jealousy, greed, or stupidity. No. Violence is an innate human quality and one may even go so far as to call it a necessary human function. Violence is a building block of society. A tool even; it helps shape and evolve society. For example, the Napoleonic Wars are described on the Canadian Encyclopedia website as having “greatly stimulated the export economy of the Canadas (Upper and Lower) and the Maritimes…” and that the result (of the wars) was responsible for the “development of the Canadian forest industry...” Violence (conflict) is necessary to producing social change and an improved society. The theme of violence in Beowulf is portrayed by the character Beowulf’s presence, usefulness and hero status in the poem with the understanding that violence is a necessary function of society. Violence also extends itself to the theme of revenge which is perpetuated by violence and represented by three monsters; Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and the dragon. It is through these acts of violence that societal change is achieved and order restored.
“…History is a continuous clash between conflicting ideas and forces”. That’s how the fifth Canadian edition of “Sociology In our Times” summarizes Karl Marx’s ideologies on conflict and change and that is the premise of Beowulf. The history of the Danish society is described during the prologue of the story and is immediately tied into violence and can clearly be identified with this passage, “Beow’s name was known through the north…afterward in age when fighting starts/ steadfast companions will stand by him/ and hold the line” (Beowulf 34, 19-24). The author admittedly points out right after this that “Behaviour that’s admired/ is the path to power among people everywhere” (34, 24-25). It is evident then that violence in Beowulf is a behaviour that should be associated and recognized by admiration. Furthermore, it is apparent that fighting and conflict form the foundations of the society that Beowulf lives in through this passage “The fortunes of war favored Hrothgar./ Friends and kinsmen...

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