Beowulf @ Ellis

Caroline F.
Good and Evil- Painting: Analysis

            Many artists have been moved by writing.  One inspirational work is the epic poem Beowulf.  The epic tells the tale of a great King’s journey to the throne, weaving in themes such as courage, generosity, and the contrast of good and evil.  This painting, Good and Evil, was inspired by the epic Beowulf.  Through the heavy contrast of light and the many symbols deriving from Beowulf itself, this painting demonstrates the theme of good and evil.  By breaking the symbols in the painting into groups the viewer can clearly see the contrast between good and evil.
            One important group of symbols in Good and Evil is the group in the center: Herot, the hart, and the heart.  Beginning with Herot, one can see the struggle between good and evil.  In Good and Evil Herot is caught in between the swamp and dark area of the painting, or the evil side of the painting, and the lighter half of the painting, or the good side.  From this we can see the struggle shown in Beowulf.  In Beowulf, Herot is caught between good and evil.  Herot is a tall tower, reaching towards God and heaven.  It is referred to as a tower that would “reach higher toward Heaven than any/-thing” (68-69) .  However, Herot is also being attacked by evil, or Grendel.  The good and evil are fighting over Herot showing the contrast of the two.  In Good and Evil Herot is shown not only between good and evil, but was also painted in styles depicting a contrast.  Although in the poem Beowulf Herot is made of wood, in this painting it is shown as gray.  The color gray is used to symbolize the neutral state of Herot.  Caught in between light and dark, white and black, Herot is depicted as gray.  Also, through the texture of Herot, more specifically the direction of the brush strokes, one can see the struggle between good and evil.  The brushstrokes of Herot were made in a vertical motion.  This is to show that the Herot could be pointing to either the sun or the swamp.  This gives viewers the impression that Herot could be going towards good or evil.  The Next symbols are the hart and the heart.  The hart is supposed to symbolize Herot, as discussed in Beowulf.  The hart is set outside of Herot in Good and Evil and contains a heart within itself to show the home aspect of Herot.  This shows that Herot is a home environment filled with love and friendship.  However, the hart is placed outside of Herot to depict that it is not in said environment.  This is to depict the idea that the hart is running from home, because of the clash of good and evil.  This was also seen in Beowulf when the hart runs from the hunter: “A deer/ Hunted through the woods by packs of hounds,/ A stag with great horns, tough driven through the forest/ from faraway places, prefers to die/ one those shores, refuses to save its life in that water”(1367-1372).  From these examples viewers can see the struggle over Herot, the hart, and the heart between good and evil.
            The next group of symbols is the sky and the sun.  In the epic poem Beowulf the sun is the most common representation of God, in this case the side of “good.”  The sun in the painting Good and Evil is made the color of fire.  This is used to represent the contrast between good and evil.  Fire, in the poem Beowulf, is used as a representation of both good and evil.  The sun in the painting shows that although it is a symbol of good, one can see that where there is good there is also evil.  The texture of the sun also gives an illusion of good vs. evil.  In one way, the cyclical motion of the brushstrokes gives an idea of God, or the sun, being the center of everything, as well as never ending.  In Beowulf, God is seen as the center of everything and an all powerful being. However, it also creates the illusion that one is being sucked down, as if being sucked down to the Underworld.  In Beowulf, readers often see this similar sucking down motion when describing Grendel’s lair.  In the painting Good and Evil this gives viewers the idea that Grendel has been turned away by God, as shown in Beowulf as well: “monsters born/ of Cain, murderous creatures banished/ by God, punished forever for the crime of Abel’s death” (105-108). This clash brings good and evil together as one, showing their contrast.  Another symbol in the painting Good and Evil is the actual sky.  The colors of the sky are various shades of light blue.  This choice of color gives the idea of a lighter area, with no shadow or darkness.  This shows the more “good” side of the painting, a more airy, free side.  The brushstrokes of the sky also give an important image.  The brushstrokes are leading into the sun.  This is to show that God is the center of everything in the poem Beowulf.  However, due to the symbolism discussed above, this also symbolizes that the center of everything is determined by the conflict between good and evil.  The fate of everything and everyone will be determined by the conflict between good and evil.  This is shown by the sun and the sky.
            The final group of symbols consists of the swamp, the clawed hands, and the lake itself.   When creating the swampy area, the brush was spread apart and the paint was put on in a jabbing motion.  This created an image of chaos.  The paint is thick in some areas and thin in others.  Also, many different shades of green and brown were used to make the swamp area.  This gives a clash to the lighter colors above, as well as creating the effect of a chaotic environment.  This is to symbolize a more “evil” area.  The next symbol in the group is the clawed hands.  They are reaching out of the lake into the chaos.  These are not specific to any of the three monsters; they are a representation of all three.  They are reaching out of the lake, giving the idea that they belong to Grendel or Grendel’s mother.  However, the claws of the hands are gold in color.  This is to represent the greed of the Dragon, reaching out and guarding his gold.  This is also shown in Beowulf: “The cup brought peace to a slave, pleased his master, but stirred a dragon’s anger” (2285-2287).  The clawed hands represent all three forms of evil; however, the gold can also be connected to the sun.  The sun, as discussed above, represents God in Beowulf, and therefore brings good and evil together with the clawed hands reaching out of the lake.  This is similar to a portion of the epic Beowulf, where it is stated that Grendel cannot be forgiven by God.  It says “God,/ whose love Grendel could not know”(168-169)”.  Finally the lake itself is an excellent symbol of the good and evil in the epic poem Beowulf.  The lake in Beowulf is the home of Grendel and his mother.  It is the source of all the evil attacking Herot.  The lake is describes is boiling, bubbling, and sucking down as if into the Underworld.  For instance, “they looked down at the lake, felt/ how its heat rose up, watched the waves’/ blood stained swirling” (1421-1423).  The brushstrokes of the water, which is dark blue in color to symbolize evil, is in a circular motion, such as a whirlpool, sucking down.  This is to symbolize the evil, drawing everything down like in the poem Beowulf.  Also, viewers will notice a gold colored area in the center of the lake.  This golden dot is a symbol of the reflection sun in the lake.  The reflection in the lake symbolizes not only the idea again that the sun, or God, is the center of everything, but also brings in the idea that goodness is growing in the lake.  The dot foreshadows the purging of the lake.  At this point in Beowulf, readers finally see good triumphing over evil.  The reflection of the sun brings in foreshadowing of this event, drawing the conflict to a close.
            In the epic poem Beowulf important themes include an outlook on fate, the role God plays in a society, and the contrast between good and evil. These themes can be seen in the painting Good and Evil, specifically the theme of good and evil.  The painting shows symbols and uses texture and value, the contrast between light and dark, to express the differences between good and evil.  Using these tools, the painting Good and Evil shows the contrast of good and evil, and foreshadows the final outcome with the success of good.


            I would like to acknowledge many people for this assignment. I would like to acknowledge first of all Ms. Dodge who takes the time to grade all of our essays, and also gave us extra time which (although I cannot speak for everyone), certainly helped me.  Also I would like to thank my sister and my parents, my parents for driving me out to get canvas and other items to create my painting, and my sister for allowing me to use her paints to create this painting.


Raffel, Burton. Beowulf. Signet Classics: New York, New York. 1963.

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