Using Critical Articles: The Basics

Ways to connect ideas from a critical article with your own thinking

  • Support the Article: Explain an idea from the article. Then insert a quote from the primary source and explain how it supports the article’s idea.

ex/ Chance argues that Grendel’s mother serves as a contrast for the other women in the poem (Chance 108). One obvious contrast is in the complete lack of hospitality that Grendel’s mother shows. While the peace-weaving women serve mead to guests, Grendel’s mother “lunged and clutched and managed to catch [Beowulf] / in her brutal grip” as soon as he approached her lair (Beowulf 1501-1502). In attacking her visitor before even finding out why he is there, Grendel’s mother proves herself to be the opposite of a peaceful hostess. . . .

  • Let the article support you: Insert and analyze a quote from the primary source with your own thinking. Then explain an idea from the article that supports, builds on, or complicates your thinking.

ex/ Grendel’s mother shows her violent tendencies in defending her home. When Beowulf dives down to her lair, Grendel’s mother “lunged and clutched and managed to catch [Beowulf] / in her brutal grip” (Beowulf 1501-1502). In attacking her visitor before even finding out why he is there, Grendel’s mother reveals her utter cruelty. Jane Chance offers a possible explanation for this characterization when she argues that Grendel’s mother serves as a contrast for the other women in the poem (Chance 108). The other women in the poem are frequently portrayed as kind, generous hostesses, welcoming guests in their husbands’ mead halls. Grendel’s mother does exactly the opposite when Beowulf arrives at her underwater hall. . . .

  • Build on the article: Explain an idea from the article. Then use your own analysis to show how the article’s idea is incomplete; take it a step further using a quote and analysis from the primary sour.

ex/ Chance argues that Grendel’s mother’s episode is positioned such that she becomes a “peace-pledge” between the two halves of the story (111). Grendel’s mother’s battle does, in fact, occur about halfway through the text, and directly before Beowulf returns to Geatland. The battle with Grendel’s mother takes on even more importance when viewed as the main ordeal, or primary battle, of the archetypal hero’s journey. . . .

  • Disagree with the article: Analyze a section from the primary source using a quote and your own thinking. Then explain an idea from the article that contradicts your idea and show why the article’s idea is flawed. Make sure you tie this analysis back into the main idea of your paragraph.

ex/ Grendel’s mother attacks Heorot not because of cruelty or viciousness, but because she is seeking revenge. Hrothgar describes her attack in terms of the revenge ethic that would have condoned it, explaining that “she has taken up the feud” and is “driven to avenge her kinsman’s death” (Beowulf 1333, 1340). Any Danish or Geatish warrior would feel equally obligated to seek revenge if his son were killed. Jane Chance contends that the revenge is unjustified, writing, “For a mother to ‘avenge’ her son as if she were a retainer . . . is monstrous” (Chance 110). Chance’s analysis falls short here. In conforming to the revenge ethic, Grendel’s mother actually works within human codes, not monstrous ones. If her revenge were “monstrous,” she would have slaughtered numerous warriors, as her son does. Instead, she kills just one, getting fair retribution for her loss.

  • Qualify the article: Agree with part of it, but not all of it.

ex/ Grendel’s mother attacks Heorot not because of cruelty or viciousness, but because she is seeking revenge. Hrothgar describes her attack in terms of the revenge ethic that would have condoned it, explaining that “she has taken up the feud” and is “driven to avenge her kinsman’s death” (Beowulf 1333, 1340). Any Danish or Geatish warrior would feel equally obligated to seek revenge if his son were killed. Jane Chance contends that the revenge is unjustified, writing, “For a mother to ‘avenge’ her son as if she were a retainer . . . is monstrous” (Chance 110). In one sense, Grendel’s mother is indeed monstrous because, while a man would be justified in seeking revenge, a woman would not. Women were supposed to keep the peace and let men deal with the violence and warfare. Yet, the word “monstrous” does not fully characterize Grendel’s mother’s actions because, rather than acting like a monster, she acts like a man. In conforming to the revenge ethic, Grendel’s mother actually works within human codes–albeit not the ones associated with her gender–not monstrous ones.

  • Cross-apply an idea from the article: To cross-applying an idea, take analysis that the author uses to discuss a moment from the book, or a character, or even a moment from another book, and explain how that analysis also applies to something else. For example, maybe an article makes an argument about the motivations of Frankenstein’s monster that you think also apply to Grendel.

ex/ While Beowulf includes examples of powerful women, these women are never quite as powerful as their male counterparts, and are certainly more evil. Chance argues that Grendel’s mother “is weaker than a man and more cowardly, for she flees in fear for her life when discovered in Heorot” (108). While Grendel stays to kill and ravage the men in the hall, Grendel’s mother leaves quickly due to, in Chance’s view, her feminine weakness. Similarly, Queen Modthryth, a foil for the kind, feminine Hygd, shows weakness along with her violent, tyrannical power. She is described as having men bound and tortured, demonstrating her power, yet “Hemming’s kinsman put a halt to her ways” as soon as she is married (Heaney 1944). In this sentence, Queen Modthryth is the passive subject, acted upon by a man capable of subduing her. When she gets married, she becomes “a bride arrayed / in her gold finery, given away / by a caring father, ferried to her young prince / over dim seas” (1948-1951). Here, she again is bereft of power and becomes an object to be “given away” and “ferried” to the man she marries. Like Grendel’s mother, Modthryth initially seems powerful, but ultimately is portrayed as weak when compared to her male counterparts.

  • Let the article set up your central question or framework: Take a question raised by an article, directly or indirectly, and make the answer to that question the focus of your paragraph.

ex/ Chance explains the gap in scholarship surrounding Grendel’s mother. She explains that the poem is often viewed as being “two-part in structure, balancing contrasts between the hero’s youth and old age” (107). In her view, Grendel’s mother is largely unanalyzed. The episode with Grendel’s mother is quite significant because . . .

ex/ Chance argues that Grendel’s mother takes “monstrous” action in avenging her son’s death, but does not explain what she should have done instead. Her analysis raises the important question of whether any alternatives exist when conforming to the revenge ethic is impossible.

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