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Comparing the Heroes in The Dream of the Rood and Beowulf

The Heroes in The Dream of the Rood and Beowulf

In The Dream of the Rood, the poet has added elements of the idealized heroic death (as exemplified in Beowulf and The Battle of Maldon) to the crucifixion. He has also eliminated details of the story that tend to render Christ as a figure of pathos, in order to further Christ’s identification with the other glorious warriors Anglo-Saxon poems.

When a hero meets his death, for example, he is usually surrounded by faithful retainers (as is Byrhtnoth) or at least one steadfast companion, such as Beowulf’s Wiglaf. The gospel clearly states that Jesus died ignobly, in the most humiliating fashion possible, and that his disciples kept themselves from Golgotha in order not to be implicated alongside him. The crowd mocked Christ with fake veneration. The poet must realize, however, that his audience will not accept a Lord who did not die a radiant death, and was not universally lamented. He says instead that “all creation wept, bewailed the king’s death — Christ was on the cross.” After Jesus is taken down, the poet asserts that a grave was carved for him “of bright stone”, and that the soldiers sung a dirge for him in the eventide. Men came “from afar, hastening to the prince.” [165] The rood extols upon Christ’s shining beauty as he died. Very noble, but there’s little biblical support for this account.

Also rooted in the heroic tradition is the subsequent gold-plating and raising of the cross. Just as Beowulf asked that a “bright mound” be erected in his honor, and the gold in the dragon’s cave becomes as a monument to him, so do the disciples unearth and gild the rood. The idea of God himself lacking a proper gold-drenched headstone was unthin…

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…e most such works, it tries to convince heathens to convert by co-opting the extant value system. Christ emerges as a powerful king who will stoically suffer for us, and reward us, for the price of our piety.

Sources Cited and Consulted

Heaney, Seamus, trans. Beowulf: A New Verse Translation. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2000.

Mitchell, Bruce and Fred C. Robinson (eds.). “The Dream of the Rood: or A Vision of the Cross.” A Guide to Old English, 6E. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2002. 256-263.

O’Keeffe, Katherine O’Brien. “Heroic values and Christian ethics.” The Cambridge Companion to Old English Literature. Ed. Malcolm Godden and Michael Lapidge. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992. 107-125.

Wheelock, Jeremy I. “The Word Made Flesh: ‘Engel Dryhtnes’ in The Dream of the Rood.” English Language Notes. March 2000, Vol. 37 Issue 3: 1.

Self-discovery in Desolation Angels

Self-discovery in Desolation Angels

Stripped to its barest essentials, Jack Kerouac’s novel Desolation Angels reads as a drug-induced stupor of casual sex (or fantasies thereof), mixed into a melting of jazz and poetry. The often-adolescent urges of Kerouac’s character Jack Duluoz, however, are mere episodes in the fast-paced, write-it-as-you-think-it, pre-literary notoriety phase in the life of a man who essentially founded the Beat generation. Though the overflowing stream of consciousness that comprises this book seems undoubtedly spontaneous, Desolation Angels actually examines, in a most straightforward and clearly organized manner, the state of human solitude. Zipping from a Forest Service mountaintop outpost to San Francisco, from Tangiers to London, and slipping from loneliness to jazz clubs full of “cats,” from a morphine addict’s room to the home of his knitting French Canadian mother, the angels of desolation take on varying shapes, ceaselessly trailing Duluoz/Kerouac.

The novel begins as Duluoz/Kerouac ascends Desolation Peak on Starvation Ridge in the High Cascades for a seventy-day job as a lookout for forest fires. He initially anticipates with relish the idea of a seclusion that will allow him to ponder “the meaning of all this existence and suffering and going to and fro in vain” without the distractions of friends, drugs or alcohol Yet as the days dissolve into each other endlessly, he begins to tire of the monotony of Desolation. The stark emptiness greeting him from his outlook reflects the vacuity of life as he sees it. Entitled “Desolation in Solitude,” this chapter records his mind patterns as he despairs over the “Void,” an uncertain entity that symbolizes an eternal, vast, indifferent force of …

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…r undying devotion to him, and this seems to partially explain the source of his anger. He mourns the fact that a creature as wholesome and pure as she will inevitably grow old and die without leaving a mark on anyone but himself and his sister. Yet in accepting her mortality, he, for the first time in the book, finds an extended sense of peace. Throughout all of his earlier road trips and travels, he searched for serenity, only to be followed by Desolation. Here, finally, taking a bus across the country with strong yet innocent “Memere,” does he leave them behind.

In witnessing this change, the reader understands that constant movement cannot effect a sense of place, as Duluoz/Kerouac had thought throughout his transient excursions. Only facing our relationships with those we truly love can answer our questions regarding who we are in this mixed-up world.

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