Beowulf is portrayed as the hero of the epic poem Beowulf (c1200), although he is in reality the villain. Throughout the poem the poet, who is unknown, believes Beowulf to be a hero because of his strength and loyalty to his people. However, his pursuit for heroic status was so dominating that it motivated his jealousy, selfishness and greed. Beowulf is a tale about a boastful soldier whose motive in life is purely self-beneficial; he exploits the vulnerability of Grendel, Grendel's mother and eventually the dragon to gain fame, money and power. Beowulf is a typical primitive whose evil actions brought him recognition and immortality, he is a product of the society that the poet lives. Beowulf stood for himself and himself alone.
Grendel is a hero and a symbol of the oppressed. Although he does not represent the traditional hero, he is a hero within a society of separates. Grendel is a "monster” that has been excluded from Heorot because his ideas and values do not fit the norms of the society. In turn, he seemingly believed that slaughtering and destroying Heorot was his only way of releasing his frustration of exile. Heorot and its people expressed their thoughts, feelings, and personalities through music, laughter and dance, "It harrowed [Grendel] every day in the hall.” (87). Grendel has been excluded from the society: "he had dwelt for a time in misery among the banished monsters, Cain's clan, whom the Creator had outlawed and condemned as outcasts” (104). Grendel was not only a representative of the individual but of all the individuals who are strangers. Grendel's thoughts conflicted with those of Heorot; it gave him joy to kill thirty men, as it gave Beowulf joy to brag about his "strength of thirty in the grip of each hand” (380). Grendel did not follow the scripts in which society judges an individual. He was a murderer and a monster for his actions, while Beowulf symbolized a hero and leader.