A reading of Beowulf

Whalen, Linda Dorothy Sheppard (1989) A reading of Beowulf. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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    Available under License - The author retains copyright ownership and moral rights in this thesis. Neither the thesis nor substantial extracts from it may be printed or otherwise reproduced without the author's permission.
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Abstract

Beowulf is a study of survival: the survival of the individual, of the race, of the species, and of the human spirit as a transcendent form of the will to continuance and renewal. Because consciousness is integral to human survival, Beowulf must also be a study of human consciousness in conflict with conscious and unconscious forces that threaten its being, as well as in faithful obedience to those forces that promote its potential for becoming. -- The dynamic of Beowulf contains the interaction of consciousness with a projection, upon the 'real1 world, of forms perhaps inherent in the structure of the human psyche. The power of the conscious mind to repress the contents of the unconscious, forcing them 'underground' or 'underwater,' and the perceived necessity of its doing so, creates the tension that gives rise to the inter-psychic dialectic. The religious tensions of the poem derive from conflicting ideologies, including the subliminal influence of 'pagan' or 'high pagan’ (i.e., gnostic) thought. The ideal product of this tension is its resolution through the recreation or transformation of both the individual entity and collective consciousness into a form that transcends apparent limitations, so that the objectives of survival can continue to be met. The real product is the poem itself, as a work of art. -- The patterns of behaviour, both actual and symbolic, by which the necessary adaptations, or transformations, of basic nature are effected, are the materials of this poem. Everything in Beowulf is, from this perspective, symbolic, from the archetypal forms which manifest themselves as patterns or projections of being and action, to the landscape, which impresses itself upon the reader as both an introjection of objective reality and as a projection of subjective perception, to the structures of human consciousness, to the characters encountered by the heroic protagonist. -- The eponymous hero is both an archetypal form of consciousness (where he is seen as the agent of the ego) and unconsciousness (where he is understood to be an agent of the 'self'). His primary function is to act for 'good’ in opposition to the forces for 'evil' represented by the two monsters and the dragon, who stand for the dangerous and destructive elements of the three primary instincts that form the unifying thematic principle for the discussion: aggression, sexuality, and transformation (or the so-called religious instinct). These instinctual occupations, the modes of action in which the hero, Beowulf, like every human being, engages, have psychic as well as physical manifestations and goals. The psychic goal is individuation, or the process of becoming a fully 'realized' individual. The evolutionary stages of the hero represent the development of the individual's consciousness, which must include awareness of his or her own strengths and weaknesses, so that the transformative requirements of individuation may be met. -- The whole of Beowulf can be seen as the enactment of the process of individuation. Beowulf, the hero, is, in this analysis, the “individuant,” who confronts in the monsters and dragon the archetypal projections of his own unconscious, which may, through the structural and formal elements of the poem, be discovered as a driving force, or will, directing the three instincts described by C.G. Jung: the aggressive, the sexual and the religious. The antagonists, in their respective forms as Grendel, the Merewife and the Wyrm, represent the repressed elements of these three primary instincts; Beowulf's battles represent the battles between consciousness and the destructive elements of both the personal and the collective unconscious. The Wyrm, in its aspect of Draca, also stands for the final transformative principle and process that underlies all developmental change. -- Apart from its representation of the individual psyche, and in keeping with both the mythopoeic intention of epic poetry and the collective nature of oral poetry, Beowulf also reflects this civilization's evolving humanity, its society, its systems and its psyche, and is, in this sense, a reflection of the collective consciousness and unconsciousness of a human species defined in relation to environmental conditions of seasonal change that includes, in a psychically significant way, the elemental conditions of ice and snow. -- Because the poem is considered to be 'about' the process of psycho-genetic development in the human individual and species, the pattern of discussion is determined by the elements basic to that process: birth, growth, death and transformation. The special temporal and transcendental function of the hero will be discussed throughout with reference to these thematic factors.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/1424
Item ID: 1424
Additional Information: Bibliography: leaves 421-444
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > English Language and Literature
Date: 1989
Date Type: Submission
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Beowulf; Subconsciousness

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