British Literature: Heroism in Beowulf, Gawain and Viola

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Beowulf, Gawain and Viola

It is a common assumption that all heroic medieval literature presents heroism along the main characters to establish and develop their plot. However, there are certain values that the heroic characters must present to earn heroic status. These characters must portray heroic prowess that is presented in the heroic orientation of the literature (Malory 17).

This is in line with the intention of presenting a prideful advancement of the main characters as the heroes in every tale. This essay seeks to assess the qualities of heroism in Beowulf, Sir Gawain and Viola in the story Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The main purpose of the analysis is to establish the main features of heroism that qualify Beowulf as the true hero.

Heroism in Beowulf, Gawain and Viola

A hero can be described as a mythological title for a person with superhuman powers that accord him honor the community. This person is perceived to be a noble human being living either as a warrior or a leader in the community. Heroism is accorded to him or her due to his or her superhuman strength, courage or traits that are not common to average human perception. In the reading Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the central characters in the stories appear to be taking on their own description of the heroes.

Out of the three characters, Beowulf seems to be presenting a more mythological definition of a hero. According to the story, Beowulf’s character is presented as a superhuman character of a warrior ready to undertake anything that challenges the land. Unlike Beowulf, Sir Gawain is presented as an average human being who portrayed actions of courage at the court of King Arthur.

In the tale, the concept of heroism is based on the definition by myths other than the modern conventional features of a main character. Beowulf is illustrated as a physically strong human being who is constantly emphasized by descriptions of his journey in the story. The descriptions make Beowulf seem to be a supernaturally strong fighter whose grasp has the strength of thirty men (Niles 76).

For instance, during the journey to kill Grendel, Beowulf decides to impose heroism on him by talking about how he had defeated many sea monsters. Due to his heroic nature, he even goes on further to suggest of his concept of immortality. This happens as he tries to prove his might when he was sent to kill Grendel, the evil monster tormenting Hrothgar.

Beowulf is presented as a true hero since his character is recognized as an express super human fighter. Unlike Beowulf, Sir Gawain and Viola do not express consistent features of true heroes. Throughout their adventures, Sir Gawain and Viola develop their heroic features in a limited scope.

Gawain for instance develops these features and portrays his own heroic qualities but he is seen making some mistakes during the adventure. Gawain’s character strives to attain perfectionism, courtesy and loyalty just like the character of Viola. However, the description of his character leaves the reader to evaluate the notion of heroism from the perspective of a medieval knight (Goldhurst 63).

Qualifications for Heroism

Heroes are qualified by their courage and bravery to tackle things that other average human beings do not dare to. In the stories, Gawain and Beowulf make decisions to take challenges that seem to be beyond everybody else. Beowulf took the decision to sail by the sea and kill Grendel who was dreaded by all. This was an act of courage since no one in the land was known to be in the position to fight the monster that was dreaded in the land.

Gawain is courageous and brave when he decides to take on the green knight, a decision that could have been left to the other knights (Goldhurst 63). Bravery is portrayed by all the three characters but Beowulf is portrayed as the bravest of all of them. For instance, Gawain chose to take on the knight instead of the king. However, Beowulf’s journey to kill the dreaded monster is the greatest act of bravery in the whole tale that presents him as the true hero.

A hero is a loyal person who undertakes all his or her adventures to defend his or her allegiance to the land. In terms of loyalty, the three characters are loyal to the king and love their land. However, Beowulf is the character that sacrifices more for the country and king. He offers to take on a journey to fight Grendel, the evil monster that was reported to be tormenting Hrothgar. Beowulf offers this sacrifice to save his father’s friend and prove loyalty to the relationship existing between the two ties.

Heroes are also qualified by their degree of loyalty towards their society or values that they believe in. Despite not being the true hero, Gawain’s loyalty is portrayed in the story. For instance, as the story starts Gawain pledges his loyalty to the king by accepting to fight the Green Knight on behalf of the king Arthur or any other knights (Goldhurst 66). Gawain’s loyalty to Guinevere, the king’s wife was evident as he fought the king’s fight to avoid discourtesy to the Queen. Gawain’s loyalty to God also prevailed throughout the story as evidenced by the Pentangle on his armor to reflect the wounds of Christ on the cross (Goldhurst 64).

However, honesty is a virtue that defines the heroic nature in Gawain and in Viola but not the hero in Beowulf. Gawain and Arthur are honest to their society and also to God throughout but Beowulf lies to hold on to his heroism. When he sails to kill Grendel, he lies to Hrothgar’s soldiers on how he killed several monsters (Niles 73). While heroism is defined by strength, courage, bravery, loyalty and honesty is still a quality that qualifies true heroes.


While Gawain and Viola present heroic qualities and features of the main characters, Beowulf describes is clearly seen as a true hero. He is a true hero because of his outstanding actions that portray higher levels of courage, loyalty and bravery. Over time, several names are given to heroic characters might have changed in literature and in real world.

However, what remains unchanged is the set of qualities that make up a hero and propel him or her to remain a hero. In the reviewed literature, the time period depicted in the stories presents heroes who tend to be loyal, strong and brave super humans. Some other tales present heroes as men that were able and ready to protect what they cherish or what is worth protecting. This gives the society today a lesson to learn and still get connected to this ideal depiction of a hero across.

Works Cited

Goldhurst, William. “The Green and the Gold: The Major Theme of Gawain and the Green Knight”. College English. Vol. 20:2 pp. 61–65. 1958. Print

Malory, Sir Thomas. Le Morte d’Arthur. Ed. Spence, Victoria (2002). Cideb / Black Cat. Print

Niles, John D. Beowulf: The Poem and Its Tradition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 1983. Print

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