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The privilege of history and hero-making in Beowulf

— Kortney Stern, Department of English, Indiana University Bloomington

Paper given 7 July 2021 at IMC 2021 paper session № 1302

While Beowulf is certainly a poem about heroic feats and battle victories, it is also a narrative about anxieties surrounding the production of story and heroes. Striving for the unattainable role of hero, Beowulf fails, and in his failure, I argue, he produces a tale of trauma. Beowulf’s glorified account of silencing and exaggerated violence only becomes visible by separating Grendel’s mother from her gender as woman and her role as mother. No longer solely a vehicle for reproduction, we can clearly see that Beowulf draws attention to Grendel’s mother’s maternity in order to veil his own problematic role as producer. Beowulf desires to have sole control of the text, to be the sole creator, so, I claim, he eradicates the only opposition in his path, Grendel’s mother. Upon her death, Beowulf utilizes his power as story teller to create his final heroic’ narrative, a narrative that departs from the narrator’s version of the evenly matched fight between Beowulf and Grendel’s mother. In Beowulf’s account to Hrothgar, he chooses to silence Grendel’s mother by removing her body and her voice from his narration. In his second retelling, Beowulf describes a gruesome beheading to Hygelac, which never took place. While each version of Beowulf’s tale could be remembered as heroic, this paper aims to draw attention to these moments of curated heroism in order to highlight the ways in which Beowulf exposes the dangers and fundamentally fraught nature of storytelling and the heroes storytellers produce.

Authoritative information may be found here.

permalink 🔗︁ https://tolkienists.org/0049/
source URL 🌐IMC listing
date recorded 📅2021-07-23
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