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Traditional critical paradigms have generally failed to come to grips with the character of Grendel's mother in Beowulf. As a monster in the heroic order, and as a female in a masculine world, she confounds simple definitions and crosses the boundaries that define the limits of agency. Grendel's mother functions as a nexus for the representation of the many dialectical tensions – male/female, human/monster, hall/wilderness, feud/peace, symbolic/semiotic – that both underwrite and critique the poem's symbolic order. As a result, the character offers insight into the symbolic process and the ways in which readers approach the distant world of the medieval text.