What Is the Main Conflict in Beowulf?

Apart from some other conflicts that mainly fall under the category “Person Vs. Person,” the central conflict is “Person Vs. Supernatural.” Accordingly, the poem describes three battles of Beowulf: with Grendel, his mother, and the dragon. All of them are evil supernatural creatures that kill people and threaten their mead-halls.

In any story, the central conflict is the principal opposition, complication, or obstacle that characters have to overcome for the plot to reach its conclusion. The central conflict is a dramatic kernel that drives the action in the story. 

Beowulf narrates the heroic actions of a legendary warrior who fights with supernatural creatures. For this reason, the main conflict in the epic poem is the opposition between a person and supernatural forces. Beowulf confronts the monsters because only such feats could create a hero. If he had fought other people, even the strongest ones, he would have merely become a mighty warrior. 

Each of the three beasts represents a negative trait or action. Grendel invades Heorot, the symbolic center of human civilization. His attack represents the unjustified willingness to extend one’s borders and conquer adjacent territories. Grendel’s mother is in rage and wants to take revenge. Although vengeance was a praised action in those days, it entailed long-lasting wars and caused many deaths. The dragon represents greed. It attacked people because a stray slave stole his goblet.  

Therefore, the conflict between a person and the supernatural is more symbolic. The mythical characters represent human traits. So, in a way, it is a conflict of humanity with itself.

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