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14 y/o DD essay on Beowulf


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My DD has written this essay about Beowulf. We are grateful for any comments and suggestions. She's not quite happy with the conclusion. Thanks.


The Symbolism of Gold in Beowulf

Beowulf is an epic poem composed sometime between 600 and 900 A.D. It is a story about the heroic deeds of a Danish prince, who is also called Beowulf. Throughout the poem, gold is frequently mentioned as a material, and an adornment. Gold is used as a symbol for nobility, duty, and, above all, the power of good over evil.

Gold in Beowulf is often used as a symbol for royalty. For example, the mead hall, a key setting throughout all of Beowulf, is first introduced by these words: “They marched in step, hurrying on till the timbered hall rose before them, radiant with gold.” (307-310) Historically, mead halls were a home for the king and his retainers. They were the central point of the kingdom. The first time this location is introduced to the audience, it is immediately associated with gold. Heorot, the mead hall in Beowulf, is referred to simply as the “gold-hall” multiple times throughout the text, often in times of great danger or worry. When King Hrothgar’s queen comes to a banquet, she is first described as being “adorned in her gold” (614). Later in the feast, she is shown to be wearing “her golden crown”. By specifically referring to the gold the queen’s own, it is clearly shown that gold is inherent of being royal or noble. One of the more common kennings used in Beowulf is calling the king “ring-giver”. On occasion, he is even referred to by the extremely specific “gold-friend”. The association of the king with treasure is so closely linked that it becomes part of his name and title in many circumstances.

Gold is also intimately connected with duty and goodness.. Hrothgar contrasts Beowulf with King Heremod, a king who brought “little joy to the Danish people, only death and destruction”. Heremod “grew bloodthirsty, gave no more rings to honor the Danes.” He commits the ultimate act of disloyalty and betrayal toward his vassals and people, “he dishonours custom and bestows no gold”, “and he ignores the shape of things to come.” (1750) Gold and bestowing it upon your people are such intrinsic parts of being a king that only the most evil of kings neglected it. Wealth is directly connected to loyalty in this social structure: the king’s subjects serve him well, he rewards them with gold, therefore they continue to serve him loyally. When a warrior of the king is killed, the king typically would pay his family a wyrgeld, or “death-price”. Much of the king’s duties and the way he would interact with his people had to do with the transfer and symbolism of gold.

When Beowulf presents the sword that he attempts to use in his fight against the monster Grendel to Hrothgar, it is described as having a “gold hilt” (1677), with “pure gold inlay”. Gold is never used to depict the “villains” in the story, but is often used to describe elements of goodness. Beowulf is awarded “a wealth of wrought gold” by Hrothgar and his queen, Wealhtheow, after his victory over Grendel. He is also given “the most resplendent torque of gold I have ever heard tell of anywhere on earth or under heaven.” (1195), representing a bond between Wealtheow’s people and Beowulf. Beowulf will later give this torque to his king, King Hygelac, who will die wearing it, furthering the ideas of duty and kinship.

In the last third of the poem, Beowulf is called upon to defeat a dragon. The dragon had been guarding the treasure of an ancient people, and was awakened by a slave trying to steal a golden goblet from it. The hoard itself is described as “golden ware”. Beowulf fights against the dragon with the help of Wiglaf, one of his warriors. After Beowulf strikes the killing blow, he is severely injured, and is dying. He specifically asks to see the gold he has just fought for one last time. “Away you go, I want to examine that ancient gold, gaze my fill on those garnered jewels. My going will be easier for having seen the treasure, a less troubled letting-go of the life and lordship I have long maintained.” (2748) Beowulf wants to see the gold that he has given his life for, but he also wants to see all his former power before he dies. “The old lord gazed sadly at the gold.”(2793) The last thing Beowulf ever does is present Wiglaf with his royal collar of gold: “then the king in his great-heartedness unclasped the collar of gold from his neck and gave it to the young thane” (2809), transferring his power to the younger generation. In his very last moments, Beowulf does not look back on his past glory; he looks forward to the coming acts of his people. Throughout the poem, Beowulf develops from a great warrior to a great king; ring-giving becomes not simply what he does, but who he is. Beowulf’s last living act is the act of a king, the ultimate act of a ring-giver: he passes on his power. When Beowulf dies, he is placed on a funeral pyre. “We must hurry now and take a last look at the king and launch him, lord and lavisher of rings, on the funeral road.” (3009) However, his people do not keep the hoard of the dragon to add to their future wealth. Rather, they place it on Beowulf’s funeral pyre, symbolizing the end of his power and glory with his death.

“His royal pyre will melt no small amount of gold: heaped there in a hoard, it was bought at heavy cost, and that pile of rings he paid for at the end of his own life will go up with the flame, be furled in fire.”(3010)

The ring-giver himself is departing life with his rings and his treasure. Beowulf has passed the golden collar worn by his king on to the next generation of warriors, and his own gold is being burned with him.

In conclusion, gold, as represented in Beowulf, is not simply a material or a signifier of wealth. It represents nobility, especially the duty of a king to his people. The key setting of the poem, the mead-hall Heorot, is frequently called the gold hall, leading back to its standing as the resting place of the king and his retainers. Gold is used to represent the elements of goodness within the poem: kings and queens, weapons against the monsters, and the hall of the king. When Beowulf is dying, he asks to see the gold he has won from the dragon one last time, the gold that has been his way of communicating with his people, has decorated his weapons, and has brought him glory for his people. Gold represents nobility, duty, and, in the end, the power of good over evil.

Edited by regentrude
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Your daughter certainly writes beyond her years. I love Beowulf and thoroughly enjoyed her essay and learned something new in the process of reading it.


She makes excellent use of quotations from the the text, and these are seamlessly integrated into her essay.


Her thesis statement indicates that she is investigating how references to gold in the poem represent three values/virtues in the culture of the protagonist: nobility, duty and good and evil.


The exploration of gold representing nobility is well defined with many supporting examples. There is a nice topic sentence transitioning the reader from the 1st paragraph which examines gold=nobility, except your daughter uses the term royalty in this section's topic sentence instead of nobility. I generally find "royalty" to refer to a class of people while "nobility" refers to a virtue. Are these terms interchangeable to her? Or is this an additional (4th) symbolic meaning for gold and if so why is it not in the first paragraph with the others? Have her consider sticking with the terms she introduced in the thesis statement.


The exploration of gold and duty is also well-defined and includes many supporting examples. There is not a clear transition marking where the discussion of nobility ends and the discussion of duty begins.


But the exploration of gold and good and evil is not fleshed out. I find only one example and it is mixed in with the royalty/nobility examples. There is no topic sentence in the body of the essay dealing with this either.


Mind you, these are only organizational suggestions. The essay is bright and lively. The sentence structure is sophisticated. And the thesis is important and manageable.


I think the conclusion will come together after a little reorganization of the body of the essay.


Great job. I know of few 14-year-olds who could produce such work. Pat yourself on the back and do a final revision and you'll have your own gold nugget in your portfolio!

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  • 1 month later...

I approve. :)


The conclusion is repetitive / summarizing, it is the kind of conclusion that might be marked as too "school-ish" in a university setting, and I can see why it rubs your daughter the wrong way, but really, being "school-ish" a little is fine when you are in high school.


Her problem is a good problem to have: she seems to seek clarity, so she presents the whole of the argument very clearly, identifying the major points in the introduction and in the body of the text - and then she ends up with a loss of "original" material or observations with which to conclude the text, so the conclusion appears a bit "dry". It is an aesthetic problem more than a structural one, since conclusion is one of the main parts of the text, so the lack of an "effective" conclusion might result in a weaker overall impression. I would not hold it against her at this point: structurally, she has mastered the form of an essay, her points are expressed with clarity and supported with textual evidence.


(One of the reasons why she might struggle with the conclusion might be that she feels "imprisoned" within the pattern of the essay. Your daughter is a strong writer, I would allow her to break off the typical essay pattern if she wishes to - she has demonstrated that she is familiar with it and that she can write well within it, but really, it is only a tool, one of several academically acceptable patterns of writing. For example, if you look at the title and then compare it with the introduction - there is a certain discrepancy there. If she is writing about such a specific topic, she can really assume the reader's familiarity with the information she provides in the initial paragraph - the reason why she is still including it might be because she fears she will not have a "proper" introduction without it. The thing is, most children get drilled with this particular essay pattern and organization because they lack clarity and need an organizational structure of this type (you know: general introduction, topic statements, clear summarizing conclusion, etc.) to help them organize their thoughts, otherwise they get lost. Besides, it is handy, one should certainly know it for standardized writing tests, and it is formulaic enough for the instructor to help with grading. But it is not the only academically acceptable essay pattern. If she feels more at ease with organizing her thoughts differently, I would allow her. For example, this essay could be written by going in medias res with pointing to the instances where the gold is mentioned (no "general introduction" whatsoever), then she could try to identify what do they have in common and describe the whole process of trying to identify it (rather than reading the "results" of somebody's thought, that might be like reading the thinking process itself), then she might draw connections with the text, structurally, where those instances are, and save the last quote for an effective conclusion, which would then not be repetitive, or summarizing at all. This is just an example, but my point is that if you have a good writer - and you certainly do - you can allow her greater freedom if it would suit her better. Such writing, which breaks the typical pattern we teach, is not at all unheard of at the university level (on the contrary).)

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What an interesting essay! It was a delight to read!


The final paragraph repeats phrases from the previous paragraphs. By the time we see them the second time, the phrases are stale. She needs to rewrite her conclusion in a fresh, lively way so that the essay will end on a high note.

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