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In An Essay Analyze The Monster Grendel

Grendel

Character Analysis


Grendel is a man-eating demon (never a good sign) that lives in the land of the Spear-Danes and attacks King Hrothgar's mead-hall, Heorot, every evening. The narrator of Beowulf claims that Grendel's motivation is hearing Hrothgar's bard sing songs about God's creation of the world, which rubs his demonic nature the wrong way.

Whatever the reason, every night Grendel slaughters more Danes and feeds on their corpses after tearing them limb from limb. Although he can't be harmed by the blade of any edged weapon, Grendel finally meets his match when the Geatish warrior Beowulf takes him on in a wrestling match.

Cannibalism, Curses, And Cain, Oh My!

The poet explains that Grendel and his mommy are the descendants of the Biblical Cain, which suggests not only that they are part of a larger religious or supernatural scheme of evil, but also that they are connected with one of the worst things possible in tribal culture— fratricide, or the killing of a brother:

Grendel was the name of this grim demon haunting the marches, marauding round the heath and the desolate fens; he had dwelt for a time in misery among the banished monsters, Cain's clan, whom the creator had outlawed and condemned as outcasts. For the killing of Abel the Eternal Lord had exacted a price: Cain got no good from committing that murder because the Almighty made him anathema and out of the curse of his exile there sprang ogres and elves and evil phantoms and the giants too who strove with God time and again until He gave them their reward. (102-114)

However, at other points in the poem, Grendel seems less like a Biblical figure and more like a ghost, a demon, or something else that belongs in a Halloween-themed horror movie:

So times were pleasant for the people there until finally one, a fiend out of hell, began to work his evil in the world. (99-101)

Critics also like to play with the idea that Grendel might represent something that isn't supernatural at all—a member of another tribe, an outcast, or a warrior who won't play by the rules. After all, the real problem with Grendel is not that he kills people. Pretty much everyone in this story kills people.

The problem with Grendel is that he seems to kill for fun and he won't pay the death-price: the treasure that he should give to the Danes to make reparations for the lives that he has taken. So, it's possible to see Grendel, not as a fantastic monster, but as a monstrous human warrior with a pathological love for violence.

Or, to spin it another way, you can read Grendel as a vilification of "the other," a demonic representation of someone outside the tribe. Of course, since he feeds on the corpses of his victims, that makes him a cannibal. But maybe that just adds to the chilling horror of it all.

Grendel's Timeline
  • 1

    How does Gardner make the reader sympathetic toward Grendel?

    By adopting Grendel’s point of view, and by making the monster more an adolescent than a fully formed adult creature, Gardner draws the reader into Grendel’s personal quest for understanding his place in the universe. By depicting Grendel’s earliest encounters with the sunlit world as random acts of violence toward him, Gardner gives Grendel a motive for his anger and frustration toward humanity and the world in general.

  • 2

    In what way is Grendel’s quest for a place in the cosmos cyclical in nature?

    Grendel begins the novel reflecting that his twelve-year war is essentially the same year of conflict repeated over and over again. He begins the novel attempting to define his place in the universe as its creator—the universe is a product of his own imagination. By the end of the novel, Grendel has rejected alternative ideologies but is forced by the stranger to “create” the wall he has been rammed into so violently. Grendel ends the novel creating a world of pain for himself, just as he began.

  • 3

    How is religion portrayed in Grendel?

    Grendel’s observations about human religion tend to focus on the hypocritical nature of human interaction with divinities. The Shaper is a religious figure in many ways, but Grendel and the human audience both know the words he sings are not true, even as they believe them. The priests who accost Ork at the circle of gods also betray their hypocrisy. They cannot accept that Ork has actually interacted with the very gods they represent, even to the point of considering Ork’s fanaticism as possible problem for their reputations.

  • 4

    What does the dragon represent in the novel?

    The dragon espouses an existentialist philosophy to Grendel, but that philosophy is so incomprehensible to Grendel that his meaning is all but lost. The dragon identifies Grendel as an oppositional force to Hrothgar and humanity—but an oppositional force that pushes humanity toward progress. Although Grendel wishes to reject the dragon’s views, he eventually does exactly what the dragon says he will do, proving the dragon’s claim to know past, present, and future simultaneously.

  • 5

    What is the role of art in Grendel?

    Art is present in the novel in various forms. The Shaper is an artist who creates worlds with his words. The priests create religious art when they carve their gods from stone and wood. Ultimately, even Grendel is an artist. He has been the creative force behind Hrothgar’s rise to power, and in the end must devise an impromptu poem affirming the reality of material things. Art is a force that can deceive or enlighten, but ultimately the main purpose of art in Grendel is to be experienced and appreciated.

  • 6

    How is the theme of isolation presented in Grendel?

    Grendel is an outcast due to his physical appearance and his inability to communicate with human beings. Although he knows their speech and thus realizes he is connected to them, Grendel cannot make himself understood to any but a select few humans, who themselves become outcasts in the process. Unferth dialogues with Grendel and comes to understand him somewhat, but in the process, he loses his faith in the heroic ideal and the respect of his fellow men. Ork also has no difficulty understanding Grendel’s speech, but his interaction with his “god” separates him even further from his fellow priests. Even Hrothgar is isolated by the end of the novel; he sits alone on his throne, waiting for the day when Wealtheow will tire of him, or Hrothulf will replace him. Even the coming of the stranger only serves to accentuate Hrogthgar’s otherness, as he is merely an observer and host, while his warriors and queen interact with the fifteen heroes.

  • 7

    Describe Grendel’s relationship with his mother.

    Grendel mostly feels pity for his mother, but often covers it up with frustration and anger. He cannot understand her strange noises and takes them for imbecility. She is more animal than human, and thus is of a separate order from Grendel, who comprehends human speech, emotions, and motives. Nonetheless, Grendel sees her as his protector on a primal level: when he is being tortured at the oak tree, he calls out for his mother and she arrives. When he is mortally wounded by Beowulf, he cries for her again before stumbling away to bleed to death in her arms.

  • 8

    How does Grendel portray Hrothgar?

    Hrothgar begins the novel as Grendel's nemesis, a man of violence who seeks to destroy that which he does not understand. Later, he becomes a parallel to Grendel, creating politically what Grendel attempts to create philosophically. The two characters' lives continue running parallel, as Grendel becomes bored with his violent, random existence at the same time that Hrothgar wearies of his political role. Both Hrothgar and Grendel see their successor. For Hrothgar, it is Hrothulf, and for Grendel, it is Beowulf.

  • 9

    What motivates Grendel to attack the Scyldings?

    Grendel begins his assault on the Scyldings' home Herot as an act of vengeance against their rejection of and attack upon him. His deeper motivation, however, is to prove his philosophical view that he, Grendel, is the center and creator of his universe. Grendel wants to demonstrate that the dragon's words are wrong, and that he is not merely a monster placed in the Scyldings' path to drive them toward progress.

  • 10

    Why is Grendel fascinated by the stranger from overseas?

    Grendel has never seen anyone like this strange man. He cannot help but notice that the man is built differently than any of the Scyldings; his muscles move in such a way as to belie their immense power. This stranger frightens Grendel, since he knows no weapon of the Scyldings can harm him but cannot account for the stranger’s sheer physical strength. In addition, Grendel may see in the stranger his own doom and a final act of self-destruction that he has long avoided.

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