How to Survive Writing Your Beowulf Essay

Do you love a good monster movie? Do you enjoy a gruesome fight between the hero of the story and the evil nemesis? If you do, I bet you’d love to read an epic poem translated from Old English about monsters and a hero, right?

Okay, so epic poetry translated from Old English may not seem as exciting as the latest Hollywood blockbuster.

But if you need to write an essay about Beowulf, then you’ll need to manage to drum up at least a little interest in the story. (And if you can get past the idea that you’re reading a poem, rather than watching a movie, the story is actually pretty cool.)

If you’ve mustered all the interest you can but you’re still struggling to figure out what to write about, here’s how to survive your Beowulf essay.

How to Survive Writing Your Beowulf Essay

beowulf essay

In order to write a literary analysis worthy of a passing grade, you need to first figure out what you want to write about.

Yeah, I know, this seems like basic advice, but without a solid start to your paper, you’ll likely end up with a paper about Beowulf that lacks a clear thesis or focus.

Need a few broad topics to help you focus your thoughts? Here are five ideas to get you started.

1. Examine Beowulf as part of the epic poem genre

An epic poem is a long poem that tells the story of a hero’s journey, generally through battles with supernatural beings.

Most agree that Beowulf is an epic poem because it contains the key components:

  • A tale told in the form of a lengthy poem. Beowulf is certainly a long poem that tells the journey of its main characters.
  • A hero. The protagonist, Beowulf, is a traditional heroic figure, full of honor and courage.
  • A supernatural being (usually the antagonist). Grendel, the supernatural being (sometimes seen as a monster or dragon) is the antagonist who battles Beowulf.

Writer’s survival tip: When demonstrating how Beowulf fits into the genre of epic poetry, you may also consider comparing and contrasting Beowulf to other epic poems, such as Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and Virgil’s Aeneid. Using additional examples helps readers see how this poem compares to other well-known epic poems.

2. Compare the poem Beowulf to other interpretations

beowulf essay
“Beowulf” by Ben.Hannis, (CC BY 2.0)

Beowulf has been interpreted in countless ways, including films, novels, graphic novels, plays, novels, and video games.

Writing a compare and contrast essay about Beowulf means you will compare at least two interpretations. But depending on the length and of scope of your paper, you might want to include three or four interpretations.

Writer’s survival tip: Before you start writing a compare and contrast essay, make sure you establish a few key points of comparison.

For instance, you might compare:

  • How the characters of Beowulf and Grendel are developed in different interpretations.
  • The varied storylines in different interpretations.
  • Visual interpretations of characters or scenes.

If you want help outlining your ideas, read This Compare and Contrast Essay Outline Will Help You Beat Writer’s Block.

3. Importance of point of view

Beowulf is told by a partially omniscient, third-person narrator. This means that the narrator isn’t part of the story.

He (or she) is looking in from an objective viewpoint and telling the story to readers. The narrator knows what the characters are thinking and feeling, and presents this information to readers through the telling of the story.

Writer’s survival tip: If you’re writing about point of view, consider why this point of view is important. How would the story look if it were told from Beowulf’s point of view or Grendel’s point of view? What information would readers not understand if the poem was written through another type of narration?

beowulf essay

4. Theme

The theme is essentially an underlying meaning of a piece of literature.

There are a number of themes in Beowulf, so it’s probably not a smart idea to try to write about all of them in one essay (unless you’re writing a really looong essay, of course).

If you’re writing about a theme, here are a few options:

  • Good vs. evil. This one is pretty obvious. Beowulf is the good guy fighting against evil (represented by Grendel). You might also want to note that Beowulf isn’t just one person fighting against the evils of the world. In many cases, he’s fighting for humanity.
  • Courage. Beowulf is the hero of this story, so it only makes sense that he shows amazing courage in battle and is willing to die for his convictions.
  • Identity. From Beowulf to Grendel to kings, spouses, and children, almost all of the characters are continually attempting to prove themselves and establish their identities through contests, fights, and a general bragging about how great they are and what great things they’ve done. (You know, kind of like that annoying classmate who does nothing but brag on every social media website known to humankind.)

Writer’s survival tip: Remember, in order to write a strong literary analysis, you need to include sufficient evidence to support your claims. Include specific scenes, examples, and dialogue in your paper to support your thesis.

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5. Symbolism

In literature (as in life) things aren’t always what they seem. Literature often uses symbols (objects or actions that represent or mean something else). For instance, a dove generally symbolizes peace.

If you’re writing about symbolism in your Beowulf essay, you probably won’t write about all of the symbols in the poem, but you might include a few key symbols as you discuss their importance.

Here are a two symbols you might consider:

  • The mead hall. The mead hall is a place for warriors to gather, to share friendship, and to brag about themselves. (Kind of like hanging out at a club or posting on social media.) The mead hall symbolizes community.
  • The cave. The cave provides shelter for Grendel and his mother. It’s a place for them to hide and to feel safe from the world. The cave symbolizes the monsters and their lives as pariahs. (They are excluded from the community.)

Writer’s survival tip: If you’re writing about both the mead hall and the cave, take note that these two symbols are polar opposites, one symbolizing community and the other symbolizing isolation.

A Little (More) Help

beowulf essay

If writing about literature isn’t your strong point (or your most favorite way to spend an evening) and you’d like a little more help with putting your paper together, check out these resources:

Need to write a character analysis on Beowulf? Read these resources:

Whatever type of Beowulf essay you’re writing, explore these sample essays about Beowulf for added inspiration.

Have you written your Beowulf essay and feel like you barely survived? Let a Kibin editor throw you a lifeline!

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