Grendel’s Mother in the context of the myth of the Woman in the Water
By Charlotte Elizabeth Ball
Master’s thesis, University of Birmingham, 2011
Abstract: This thesis proposes that the character of Grendel’s mother in Beowulf is a manifestation of a mythic type, derived from studies of European goddess figures and named here as the Woman in the Water. This myth takes the form of an inherent association between femininity and water, and connotes the binary oppositions of birth and death, creativity and destruction, and the overarching themes of chaos and transience. By examining the imagery in Beowulf and its contemporary literature, this thesis studies the figure of Grendel’s mother in the context of this myth, looking at how the nature of motherhood and the element of water combine to form a powerful symbolic image emblematising the transience of life. These images are interpreted within a psychoanalytical framework as well as a mythic contextual one, providing the myth with an analogue in the human subconscious; that of the abject mother, a figure which represents the inevitable return of life to the void of the womb. The thesis concludes by demonstrating how the entire poem can be read with the character of Grendel’s mother and the battle against transience in mind, and how it complements the poem’s overall theme and structure.