Type of Culminating Activity
Thesis - Boise State University Access Only
Master of Arts in English, Literature
Linda Marie Zaerr
Monsters abound in Anglo-Saxon literature. One type of monster that shows up again and again is the cannibal. Heroes such as Beowulf and Andreas face humanoid monsters that threaten to literally consume their victims. However, despite being set in opposition to each other, these cannibalistic monsters and the heroes they encounter also have moments of inexplicable similarity as the two different identities are conflated with each other, both through the literal threat of cannibalism and through a merging of their identities through narrative descriptions and similar characteristics. My thesis explores the reasons behind this conflation in three texts, Wonders of the East, Andreas, and Beowulf, building on Kristeva’s theory of the abject and Nicholas Howe’s claim that the migration myth was still an important part of the Anglo-Saxon identity. I argue that the conflation between the monsters and heroes results from the Anglo-Saxons’ anxiety about their own heroic narrative of their conquest of Britain in the fifth century. This heroic narrative was an important part of their identity, but when the Viking invasions began in earnest in the eighth century, the Anglo-Saxons could not help but make a connection between their own self-proclaimed God-ordained conquest and the current invasions of the pagan Vikings. This break in their narrative system allowed them to abject the inconsistency into the consumptive, cannibalistic monsters that inhabit their texts. The heroes take on characteristics of the monsters because of that realization that the pagan Vikings are doing nothing more than the pagan Anglo-Saxons did centuries earlier.
Garland, Katie, "Conquest and Cannibalism in Anglo-Saxon Literature" (2013). Boise State University Theses and Dissertations. 634.