Characteristics of Heroism: Beowulf vs. Modern Heroism is a term not often used in modern society but is the theme for many historic novels and epics such as Beowulf. The Webster Dictionary describes heroism as “courageous action. ” While the actual term is rarely used in daily conversations, there have been several heroic episodes in the last century that may be compared with those found in literature. The world was a very different place in 1942 when the United States entered World War II. After the Japanese attacked Pear Harbor, every American citizen desired to do their part to help defend their country.
Many battles were fought on foreign soil with heroes living and dying. One of the pivotal battles for the Allied troops against Adolf Hitler was the battle of Normandy on June 6th, 1944. American, British, and Canadian troops crossed the English Channel and with much bloodshed and death, stormed the beaches of Normandy in an all-day battle. This victory gave the Allies a much needed foothold on the shores of France. Everyone who serves in war maybe considered heroes but “heroic” is not always a definition of soldiers. On the beaches of Normandy, however, heroes were made.
The troops, while trying to go ashore undetected, were not successful and many died before even reaching land. Those men who perished along with those who returned home are considered heroes because they ran straight into the face of danger. Beowulf landed on the shores of Herot ready to assist in the destruction of the monster that was terrorizing the kingdom. When he landed he was met by Hrothgar’s lieutenant. “Whose soldiers are you…? ” (152) asked the lieutenant, “Speak, say exactly who you are, and from where, and why. ” (171). Beowulf, their leader, answered We are Geats… And we have come seeking your prince… only in friendship… ” (174-181). He was taken to the throne of Hrothgar where he told the king of his plan, “Now Grendel and I are called together. ” (254). He planned to kill Grendel and rescue the kingdom from the terror Grendel caused. He later killed Grendel’s mother, and fifty years later, killed a dragon in his own kingdom. One similarity between the Battle of Normandy and the arrival of Beowulf is that the heroes came by boat. They each went to a foreign land to aid people from monsters (Hitler and Grendel).
Both episodes had climatic results: Normandy gave the Allies a foothold in France and Beowulf gained the trust of Hrothgar and killed Grendel. The Allied forces were detected and met with an unfriendly, even life threatening, welcome. While Beowulf experienced a probing welcome, his nor his troops’ lives were endangered. The Allied forces consisted of three different countries but Beowulf brought only his countrymen to Herot. A more recent event which affected all of the United States and much of the world was the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington DC on September 11, 2001.
The realization that the World Trade Center had been hit by a plane was too much for many to bear but when the first tower collapsed, the nightmare became all too true. While many ran from the gruesome sight that was Manhattan, hundreds of police officers, firefighters, and rescue teams ran toward the disaster and danger. They realized their job was to help the people that were trapped inside the falling towers and those suffering in the streets whom they had never met. Most of the heroes ran into the falling building, never to return, simply because it was their duty to their country and city.
They did not expect any rewards or payment for their acts of heroism. Beowulf, while he wanted slay to Grendel in order to help the kingdom of Herot, was more interested in proving that he was by-far a greater hero than anyone had ever seen. He tells King Hrothgar “My people have said that the wisest, most knowing, and best of them all, was my duty to go to the Danes’ Great King. They have seen my strength for themselves, have watched me rise from the darkness of war, dripping with my enemies’ blood. I drove five great giants into chains, chased all of that race from the earth.
I swam in the blackness of night, hunting monsters out of the ocean and killing them one by one… ” (244) He saved Herot from a monster who was eating the people and therefore demolishing the security and livelihood of the kingdom. Beowulf also was responding to a need and desperation of the people in direct response to the attacks by Grendel. In comparing Beowulf to the heroes from the 9/11 attacks they both were willing to help people they did not know. They also were fighting against enemies (terrorists) who attacked innocent people. Beowulf knew of the nemy he was facing whereas the heroes of 9/11 just ran to help those in danger. Beowulf’s greatest objective for fighting Grendel was to make his name great and receive the treasures that King Hrothgar was offering. The heroes of 9/11 thought nothing of themselves, not even their own lives, when they ran towards the danger instead of away. While many of the heroes were firemen and police officers and this was their job, other heroes were selfless civilians. The heroes of 9/11 were normal people with human strengths. Some of them even gave their lives.
Beowulf was endowed with super human strengths such as swimming underwater for hours and defeating Grendel with his bare hands. Many other acts of heroism have been performed in this century. While heroes are courageous, they also have compassion and heart for those in despair. Most modern day heroes are not rewarded as generously as Beowulf was with treasures and gold. They are rewarded with the satisfaction that they helped. Heroes can come in all shapes and sizes but they are made and not born. Even those with great power must choose to help others in need.