ï»¿2.3.7 Thematic Analysis in Beowulf
In the tale of Beowulf, one of the main themes that comes forward is familial duty. This sense of duty is passed down from one generation to the next, and the expectation is that whatever is needed will be done. Even though Beowulf is not related to Hrothgar or his people, the bond that is established between the King and Ecgtheow, Beowulf's father, puts Beowulf in the position of service to Hrothgar in his time of need as he deals with Grendel. That same sense of duty is what compels Grendel's mother to seek revenge for the death of her son, which ultimately leads to her death.
Beowulf is all about the connections between different generations of Danes. Starting with Scyld, then Beowulf, then Healfdene, then ...view middle of the document...
Fleeing, he sought our South-Dane folk,...
Straightway the feud with fee I settled,
to the Wylfings sent, oâ€™er watery ridges,
treasures olden: oaths he swore me. (VII, 1-17)
This section shows that Hrothgar's monetary aid to Ecgtheow in his time of need now obligated everyone in his line, not just him, to serve Hrothgar when he needed aid. Grendel's mother also is compelled by duty to avenge the murder of her son. She, being "gloomy and grim, would go that quest/of sorrow, the death of her son to avenge" (XIX, 27-28). It can also be understood that the future battle between Beowulf and Grendel's mother is even more dramatic because both were fighting with purpose, making for an even match, as described in the text:
Flung then the fierce one, filled with wrath,
his deadly foe, that she fell to ground.
Swift on her part she paid him back
with grisly grasp, and grappled with him.
Spent with struggle, stumbled the warrior,
fiercest of fighting-men, fell adown.
On the hall-guest she hurled herself, the bairn to avenge,
the sole-born son. (XXII, 67-75)
Familial duty is a universal theme that runs through Beowulf. It is a concept that unites all the clansmen of King Hrothgar, and it bonds Beowulf to Hrothgar as well, even though he is not related. That sense of duty obligates Grendel's mother to fight so hard to avenge her son's death. It creates a reason for action that is easy to understand. Familial duty is also what forces Hamlet into action in the play Hamlet when his father is murdered. Duty is what also makes Oedipus seek the murderer of Laius, even if it means his own destruction. Familial duty is so universal that it makes us all do things that we would probably prefer not having to do, like babysitting or bailing your brother out of jail.