The Meaning of Life in the Story about Grendel

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

In the Old English epic poem, Beowulf, Grendel is described to be an inhumane, evil monster said to bear a curse as he is a descendant of Cain. He attacks the Danes during the night as a reaction to the joy that he cannot empathize with. His home is revealed to exist under a body of water that is littered with sea monsters and dragons, murky with blood. Yet his eventual death is avenged by the one with whose bond is strongest to ever exist: his mother, raising the question of whether or not Grendel was really a “monster.” John Gardner, in his retold story of the old poem from the monster’s point of view, called Grendel, humanizes the life of the legendary monster by taking readers through Grendel’s spiritual journey, answering questions that lie behind his alienation and outbursts that label him a “monster.” By giving Grendel a voice that was never heard of for centuries, Gardner proves to readers that Grendel’s struggles and spiritual journeys are no different than those experienced by humans, blurring the lines that differentiate human from monster. Grendel’s reflection of his existential view of life in parts of the story resonate with my understanding of what life means to me, opening the doors to many possibilities that exist beyond my scope of imagination: that life if simply what I make of it. For Grendel, it was his inevitable death.

Existentialism, as described by William Barrett in his novel Irrational Man, began after World War II, where disillusionment was rampant and post-war emotions included pessimism and hopelessness (Barrett). The term was first introduced by French writer Jean-Paul Sartre, turning into a “cultural movement that flourished in Europe in the 1940s and 1950s.” Existentialism is a philosophical inquiry that states that human beings cannot be described nor understood simply by “categories found in the conceptual repertoire of ancient or modern thought” (Crowell). The fundamental scientific concepts that seems to be understood by humans is therefore insufficient to describe the depth of the human existence; these tools can only achieve a limited amount of understanding of physical processes, but not the emotional ones. Existentialism concludes that current methods of rationalization and giving meaning to life and human existence are not enough to grasp full understanding (Crowell).

Existentialism was created with the underlying question of what it means to live. It recognizes the difference between human existence and existence in general, because generalities can be understood with knowledge, while humans cannot (Burnham). When one adopts existentialism as their way of life, they succumb to one of the following beliefs:

“Nature as a whole has no design, no reason for existing.” The sciences that seem to define nature do not actually explain the reason to why things occur the way they do, but are simply description of what is observed.
“Freedom will not only be undetermined by knowledge or reason, but from the point of view of the latter my freedom will even appear absurd.” Every aspect of choice will have moments of absurdity, even when it seems that a path taken to arrive to a specific conclusion does not appear absurd itself.
“Human existence as action is doomed to always destroy itself.” Actions are always bound to the world around them, and no action can occur independent of other factors. A “free” action, once done, is no longer free (Burnham).
With these, existentialists arrive at the conclusion that human existence is what it is not. Existence is then separate from humans themselves, and in order to be “free,” one cannot be bound to the world of cycles. In short, existentialism is a representation of the choice one makes to live their life, regardless of whether or not that way is true. One can set their own value, and live to fulfill it. Such is the vagueness of the philosophy.

At the entrance of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi is inscribed the phrase, “Know thyself!,” a saying attributed to Socrates in regards to the beginning of a philosophical journey: to know oneself first (Barrett). Grendel’s philosophical journey in attempts to figure out the true meaning of life revolved around understanding the world around him; he already knew what he was. The beginning of Grendel’s journey begins as an allusion to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, in which a group of men sat, chained, inside a cave, staring at shadows on the wall in which they perceive is reality. Only when one man breaks the chains and ventures into the outside world does he realize that the world is more than just a perception of what people think of it, although perception and truth may overlap. Grendel, in his journey, parallels this journey as he ventures outside his lair and breaks the physical barrier that exists between his world at the outside world, which was the body of water filled with sea dragons. During Grendel’s first encounter with humans, he realizes that he is very much like them, with the only differences being the way he looks and the way he grew up in isolation. It can be argued that the reason for Grendel’s anger and actions in the rest of the book can be rooted in the isolation and alienation he felt when the humans shut him out as he tried communicate, since they both spoke the same language. The humans’ instinctual expressions of hate towards the different creature may be the tipping point that catalyzed Grendel’s need to find out the meaning of his existence, as if it were different from anyone else’s. Hence Grendel’s need to find where he really belongs.

Grendel’s isolation allowed him to observe the world as a third party, as if his being was independent of the world’s mechanics. Multiple times in the novel, Grendel criticizes the cyclic nature of the universe, shown through his frustration with the ram that kept attacking him, the mountain goat that was determined to climb the mountain regardless of the impossibility, and the humans that killed for no reason. Grendel, preventing himself from succumbing to this cyclic nature, ventured to find meaning to his existence that had nothing to do with the stupidity, as he thought, of the world. The only thing he knew for certain was that he was alone. He says, “I understood that the world was nothing; a mechanical chaos of casual, brute enmity on which we stupidly impose our hopes and fears. I understood that, finally and absolutely, I alone exist” (Gardner, 22). This idea of existential absurdity allows for Grendel to define the values of his life that separate him from the rest of the world and its mechanics that others succumb to (Burnham). The only thing that matters to him is his own existence, as he is the only one that can shape and give meaning to his life.

Perhaps the meaning that Grendel gave to his own life was the determination to figure out why he existed. While Grendel felt confused at multiple points in the novel, the reason he kept living the way he did was because his goal was to figure out the meaning to his existence. Unlike the dragon, who retired from a normal life to “sit on gold” (Grendel, Chapter 5), Grendel kept observing the world to find the answers to his own life. Unlike nihilists, he had a reason to live and reason behind the things he did. For example, when Grendel wreaks havoc in the mead hall to encounter the Queen, a symbolism for innocence and faith, he did not kill her despite his ability to. He says, “I have not committed the ultimate act of nihilism: I have not killed the queen” (Gardner, 93). Grendel reflects on this possibility and concludes that there simply is no benefit to killing Queen Wealtheow. Killing her would prove acknowledgement in the faith that Grendel opposes, giving in to a nihilist nature that denies any reason behind the world. The recurring idea throughout the novel is that Grendel knows there is a reason to his existence, and he lived to figure it out.

Grendel recognized that the cyclic nature of the world was made up of actions and reactions; he made it a goal that his existence would not be a simple reaction to what the world made him face. His death, however, proved otherwise. Grendel fights Beowulf in the mead hall, believing he has won before the fight even begins. The lack of Grendel’s presence is what ultimately causes Beowulf to win the fight, taking Grendel’s arm as a trophy. Until his death, Grendel recognizes that the reason behind his loss was not a result of his weakness, but rather an “accident.” While he fights, he says, “My sanity has won. He’s only a man; I can escape him. I plan. I feel the plan moving inside me like that-time waters rising between cliffs… I have fallen! Slipped on blood. By accident, it comes to me, I have given him a greater advantage” (Gardner, 169). The ending lines of the novel also say, “‘Poor Grendel’s had an accident,’ I whisper. ‘So may you all’” (Gardner, 174). With Grendel losing the fight, readers realize that Grendel falls into the pattern of the cyclic nature that he tried so hard to dissociate from. His “plan” and the way he fought were simply responses to what he was given to face. While readers realize it, Grendel did not. Perhaps this is the way he fulfilled his existential life goal: to not be a part of nature, and die separate of it.

The beauty of existentialism is that is allows us to turn life into what it is not, allowing us to fill the pages of a book that is only known to us. In his vast sea of loneliness and the love that his cruel world deprived him of, Grendel found the reason to his own being, to not fall into the set path that nature guides for everyone else. Existentialism allows for one to define the meaning of their own life, allowing them to choose the way they live and create their own guidelines for their existence, aside from societal values and religious expectations. Disappointment and unhappiness is rooted in failure to meet expectations that are set too high in the first place; however, setting one’s own expectations of how they want to live solves the problem of unhappiness before it can even happen. While to a much lesser degree than Grendel’s, existentialism has solved the problems of many and given hope to many others. Life is not a one size fits all, but a creation of journey that one aims to achieve in a world made as their own.

Works Cited

Barrett, William. Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy. New York: Doubleday, 1958. Print.

Burnham, Douglas, and George Papandreopoulos. “Existentialism.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Jan. 2017. <>.

Crowell, Steven, “Existentialism”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), <>.

Greenstreet, Stuart. “On Being An Existentialist.” On Being An Existentialist. Philosophy Now, n.d. Web. 22 Jan. 2017. <>.

Gardner, John. Grendel. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1971. Print.

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Grendel: Violent Impulse and Naturally Destructive

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

“In peaceful times the warlike man sets upon himself.” The poem “Beowulf” illustrates the violent, primitive reality of the truth in Nietszche’s aphorism. The monster Grendel plays a symbolic role as the primordial, inalienable instincts that exist on the fringes of human civilization whose existence is ignored and whose presence is desperately barred from entrance into the great and glorious mead-hall. At the same time, Beowulf’s battle with Grendel is an affirmation of man’s ability not only to conquer and control, but accept, his violent impulses. Beowulf’s acceptance of his nature is what truly qualifies him to be a hero, while the heroic feats of strength he achieves are only an unavoidable progression of events after Beowulf first realizes that he is destined for greatness.

While the Spear-Danes were still warlike men, violence reigned supreme. “Shield Sheafson, scourge of many tribes, a wrecker of mead-benches” (4-5) was praised as a “good king.”(11) At this point, the violent expenditure of energy was directed outward and peace within the ranks of the Spear-Danes was possible. However, when Hrothgar “turned to hall-building,” (68) the Danes remain warlike men, only without a war. At this point, the warlike civilization turns upon itself. By physically entering apparently peaceful Heorot and tearing human beings and the society they have created apart, Grendel becomes a tangible presence to represent the tendencies of civilized man which are suppressed but impossible to eliminate. By virtue of Grendel’s symbolic meaning, Beowulf becomes the antithesis to Grendel. He does, not however, transcend the violence inherent in Grendel’s behavior, his violent impulse manifests itself in the form of a desire for glory, to perform great acts and uphold the foundation of Danish society, as opposed to Grendel’s impulse to treachery and cowardice. When the two characters in Beowulf take on this significance, their battle takes on the significance not only of a fight between a man and a monster, but an epic battle between glory and decadence, courage and cowardice. Essentially it is a battle of Beowulf’s will to ascend and achieve and Grendel’s tendency to decline. However, neither opponent is beyond mankind’s inherent violence. No matter what the outcome of the battle, the only thing that shall be certainly affirmed is the universal law of violence- the massive expenditure of energy and eternal fluctuation of power that is the only law governing the world of Beowulf and the Spear-Danes.

Grendel’s mode of existence and his manner of attack show that his significance has transcended that of one monster, but that he represents all monsters in every form and all of the traits that they may carry, from physical mutation to the treachery of a man in Hrothgar’s court. The hall of Heorot in peacetime has come to resemble a war-torn kingdom. “All were endangered; young and old were hunted down by that dark death-shadow.” (159-160) He is described as a “fiend out of hell.” (100) While these descriptions illustrate the literal threat posed by Grendel, and they are essential to establish Grendel’s identity, the real core of what Grendel is lies in his creation, not only in his treatment of the Danes. He is described as one of “Cain’s clan, whom the creator had outlawed and condemned as outcasts.” (106-107) Grendel represents all of the values in man that have been ordained as evil, that men have tried to train out of their character yet have never been truly destroyed. Grendel may be outcast, but he still exists, and while he may dwell in the fringes of civilization, out of sight in the swamps, he strikes right in the mead-hall, the very heart the Danish civilization. However, his attacks are always “after nightfall,” (115) implying that he is not seen, in the exact same way that the violent tendencies of man are always repressed and rarely seen, but their effects are always devastating when they are revealed. Until Beowulf’s great battle with Grendel, no living Dane has even seen the monster that terrifies them. He is not so much a physical entity as a barely intangible presence that has infiltrated the lives of the Danes and wreaked horrible pain and sorrow on them when they are not looking. Similarly, the failure of conventional weapons of war against Grendel indicate that now the enemy of the Danes is not one so clear-cut as the armies they were accustomed to conquering, but that Grendel is an insidious enemy that can only be defeated with immense personal strength of mind and body.

In addition to the poet’s description of Grendel’s monstrous nature and his relation to society, he also lays out many acts that Grendel has committed. This is essential because the world of Beowulf is largely centered around acts. While Beowulf is not a hero until he does something heroic, Grendel is likewise not a monster unless he does something monstrous. These acts are also clear manifestations of man’s violent impulse in society. For example, after Beowulf became king, one of the traits that outline his good conduct is that he “never cut down a comrade who was drunk.”(2179) Meanwhile, Grendel’s attacks always come after men have been feasting and they are drunk and vulnerable to Grendel’s insatiable appetite. Even more revealing is the fact that Unferth, who is permitted to “crouch at the king’s feet”(449) has killed his “own kith and kin.” (587) The coincidence between Grendel’s arrival at Heorot and the emergence of a kin-killer in the mead hall is too obvious to be ignored. The reason for Grendel’s banishment from mankind is the brutal kin killing committed by Cain, an ancestor of Grendel. Cain’s fratricide is the first act of violence committed in the bible- it is the original act of hatred committed by a man against another member of the human race. Grendel is what occurs when that primordial act of violence overcomes a man or a society. Heorot’s propensity to set upon itself in this manner is even described as “the killer instinct unleashed among in-laws, the blood-lust rampant.” (84-85) Similarly, in the digressive poem describing the wedding of Hildeburh and Finn, peace between the two factions is impossible, and a deadly battle breaks out among the wedding guests. Similarly, the endless cycle of vengeance and reparation for murder have become so constant in the world of Beowulf that it has surpassed any real semblance of a cycle and become a permanent state of being. When Hrothgar attempts to remove his people from this state of being and into the mead hall, he does not realize that his men are not peaceful simply because they are at peace. Now that they are civilized and at a loss for an enemy, the instinct to violence becomes repressed, not to disappear but stagnate and make a target of its oppressor, civilization itself. Grendel is nothing new to the Danes- he only has a new setting.

Beowulf’s epic battle is not so much of an issue of purifying or redeeming Heorot as it is a quest for glory. Beowulf is not bound down by the repression of civilization. Instead of condemning his impulse to violence, he embraces his strength, courage and vitality, and instead of an instinct of violent treachery, he is strong enough to maintain a vision of greatness. His declaration in the mead hall shows that he has full knowledge of his position and the current impotence of the Geats. “[Grendel] knows he can trample down you Danes to his hearts content, humiliate and murder without fear of reprisal. But he will find me different. I will show him how Geats shape to kill.” (599-622) At this point, both Grendel the physical entity and the suppressed impulse do as they please, the Danes simply are not strong enough to control either. Hrothgar is a wise king, but he lacks the courage to either defeat Grendel or control the impulses of his men. A symptom of this is that the weapons of civilization created by the Danes have been rendered useless against Grendel. They have essentially become his tools, Unferth’s prized sword was probably used to kill his brothers, so how could it be possible that the same sword would be effective against Grendel’s mother, the descendant of the first kin-killer? Consequently, Beowulf’s choice to fight Grendel without the aid of weapons is not only a testament to his immense strength, but at the same time it is a symbolic gesture of casting off the systems of civilization that are aimed at repressing and denying man’s primordial, violent state. As a result of this, Beowulf’s strategy leaves him locked in a death grip with Grendel, as close to each other as they could possibly be. Beowulf practically becomes one with Grendel, his violent impulse, and he manages to control it and emerge victorious. By abstaining from the weapons of civilization, Beowulf reduces both sides to their essential, most basic elements. Thus, it is not a fight between civilization and Grendel or Heorot and Grendel, but instead it becomes a battle of will from which Beowulf emerges in the glory of his own greatness. Not only has he defeated Grendel and proven his strength and courage, but he has become stronger as a result of the struggle. His intimate encounter with Grendel, his most primitive impulses, has left him with a better understanding of himself. After all, he kept a piece of Grendel with him, “the whole of Grendel’s shoulder and arm, his awesome grasp.” (834-835) It could not be more appropriate that Beowulf would keep part of the monster, especially Grendel’s deadly arm, his powerful, primitive weapon.

While the existence of Grendel, even as a symbolic impulse to violence, may seem far-off and isolated in the world of the Geats and the Danes, it is quite clear that “Beowulf” bears a universal significance that gets to the very core of human nature. Heorot, it seems, is irredeemable. Even after Grendel was killed, another scourge immediately unleashed itself upon the people. Man’s most basic instincts will always torture those who will repress their impulses or let their impulses control them. The Danes suffer from the latter case, and as a result they become warlike men whose impulses form into Grendels in peaceful times when violence is not glorified. Beowulf’s ability to transcend civilization’s repression of the will and achieve a self-affirmation of his basic, instinctively violent state and at the same time acknowledge his strength and greatness is what makes him a hero. While he may not be able to redeem the mead-hall, his ability to conquer his own Grendel and the one that plagues Heorot affirms the greatness of the aspirations and potential of man. Civilizations will rise and fall, mead-halls burn down, but man and his instincts will always exist, and man’s capacity for heroism will be the only thing to remain permanent no matter what Grendels lurk in the swamps.

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Grendel’s Darkness as a Path to Perfection

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

Smother light, and the world becomes perfect. The sun cedes no mercy; it shines upon everything and everyone, unflinchingly exposing the flaws of humanity. Night on the other hand does not judge; it does not discern the beautiful from the ugly, the corrupt from the pure. Grendel by John Gardner is a presentation of the dark, the misunderstood, and the ugly, speaking always for itself, urging empathy for its pain, and claiming some rightful place in the shaping of whatever is real. Or perhaps human.

Light in humanity corrupts reality, adopting evil as a false connotation for darkness, undeterred by the pain it causes. Artists, such as the Shaper, “stare strange-eyed at the mindless world and turn dry sticks to gold” (Gardner 48). They set the darkest of places ablaze, and enliven the inanimate. Instead of seeing the world in all its ugliness, they choose to morph it in their eyes to form a dazzling image, an illusion far from reality. As Grendel watches and listens to the shaper, he sees the lies and the corruption, and knows that “all he said was ridiculous, not light for their darkness but flattery, illusion, a vortex pulling them from sunlight to heat…” (Gardner 48). Grendel knows the light to be false, yet even he cannot resist the urge to succumb to the impossibility of the beauty. Immediately the “harper’s lure drew [Grendel’s] mind away to hopeful dreams” (Gardner 54). Essentially, the shaper taunts Grendel. He makes Grendel want to see everything in light; he wants to see the world in the heavenly manner as the shaper describes it. Yet he knows he cannot, he knows the impossibility of the idea of living with the humans in harmony. He sees the treachery, the greed and misery of humans. Yet still he dreams of the perfect images the shaper forms, he “even rushes into the midst of the villagers and asks for their forgiveness for his role in the fable, but they simply hack at him with swords” (Stromme).

Sadly, where there is light there must also be darkness. The shaper has decided that the day should represent the good, and the night should represent evil. So in order for Grendel to accept the glorification of humankind and accept the light, he must also accept the darkness that resides within himself, the darkness bestowed upon him by man. It is a paradox. Grendel is caught in between it. He wants to assimilate into human society in all its pride and glory, but he is misunderstood, he is the other. He sacrifices himself for humankind, so that the shaper’s idealistic image on the world might come true. He conforms to the image of evil not because it was innate nature, but “because it gives some order and purpose to the world, even if the order demands the vilification of his image” (Stromme). He is a martyr of humankind, just like certain versions of Batman, who accepts his role not as a superhero but as an outcast who keeps Gotham City running.

Easily spotted in blackness, a glimmer of light exists as a target for all who reside in the dark, and vice versa. Grendel sees the light and wants to be a part of it, but his role is not of the light, but part of “the dark side…the terrible race God cursed” (Gardner 51). Grendel’s “mother’s fur is brisly…her flesh is loose” (Gardner 29). Darkness does not criticize. Grendel’s mother is ugly, and so is he. After seeing the light, Grendel can no longer view his mother the same, he sees her ugliness, despite his own terrifying countenance. Grendel is also surprised “if anything in [himself] could be as cold, as dark, as centuries old as the presence [he] felt around [himself]” (Gardner 54). He wants to believe he is not truly as dark as the humans see him. He almost wishes he were human. He simply wants to belong.

Grendel is everything humans despise. Grendel’s darkness is their own. Artists, such as the shaper, create idealistic images of the world, not the actual scene that occurs. This is one of the key reasons as to why human society shuns Grendel. He breaks every rule, he is the opposite of everything humans want to believe, what humans want to see. They are from opposite ends of the spectrum, and humans desperately try to shy away from the “dark side.” There is no support for Grendel; there is no one to vouch for his existence, his values and intentions. Even in his frustration, he cannot convey his meanings, as “the accursed didn’t even have words for swearing in” (Gardner 52). So of course, Grendel does not have a foundation to build upon. He only wants to exist in the human world, but he is stuck with reality. He is stuck with the truth that he can never be anything more than a villain in the human world, and that all humans are terrified of him and hate him, and nothing that he can ever say or do will change that fact.

In our world, we acknowledge our own lofty ideals yet turn around and reject others’. We see darkness and see evil. We look at light and see good. If we looked behind stereotypes and discrimination, we could achieve something. Ever wonder why people turn out the way they do? It’s not nature, since many people are good, while others are bad. It has to be nurture. We shape our surroundings. Whether it’s the “human” world or reality is of no consequence. It is undeniable that people are exactly what we make them out to be.

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Grendel: the Impersonation of Existential Philosophy

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

“What happened in Grendel was that I got the idea of presenting the Beowulf monster as Sartre, and everything that Grendel says Sartre in one mood or another has said, so that my love of Sartre kind of comes through as my love of the monster, though monsters are still monsters-I hope” (Harvey 86). Authors may develop their works around personal ideas as well as the ideas of others. During the 1960’s, John Gardner became attracted to questions of evil, morality, and the meaning of existence in the world which can be found in the reemergence of existentialist philosophy during this time (Nutter 48). Existentialists believe in individual freedom as well as the personal responsibility that goes along with being free (OED). John Gardner ponders these universal questions about life and uses literature to help understand, develop, and dispense his ideas. He takes a stance against the mainstream and popular social movement of existentialism by satirizing the philosophy. Although he ponders about life’s meaning, Gardner opposes the “social benefits of adopting an existentialist posture,” while also believing that there is more to life than individual self-fulfillment (Nutter 50). In his novel Grendel, John Gardner comments on society using existentialism within the characters of Grendel, the Dragon, and the Shaper.

John Gardner begins by using Jean Paul Sartre’s existential philosophy to develop the character of Grendel. John Gardner is interested in Sartre’s philosophy, which he thinks is “paranoid and loveless and faithless and egoistic and other nasty things” (Mason 102). His negative perception of this philosophy colors the novel as Gardner portrays his thoughts through the monstrous narrator, modeled after Sartre, and attempts to expose philosophical problems relating to society’s acceptance of existentialism. Grendel’s “idiotic war” (Gardner 5) begins as the “poor old freak” (6) encounters nature. Grendel feels “abandoned” by the world, and those feelings correlate with Sartre’s “being-in-itself” argument. “The world resists me and I resist the world…the mountains are what I define them as” (Gardner 28).

According to Sartre, a “being-in-itself” lacks a consciousness while a “being-for-itself” has consciousness and the ability to create a personal “essence” using this consciousness (Mason 102). For example, Grendel perceives the mountains only through his consciousness or his own definition. The mountains represent a “being-in-itself” whereas Grendel represents a “being-for-itself.” Therefore, Grendel’s attempts to connect with nature fail because Sartre’s philosophy does not allow any sort of communication between the two beings. Moreover, Gardner presents readers with an objection to existentialism.

Internally, Grendel convinces himself that alienation from society is necessary because he is a “pointless, ridiculous monster” and a “poor old freak” (Gardner 6). His feelings of insecurity contribute to thoughts of a meaningless world. Grendel holds complete responsibility for these feelings because, according to Sartre, he creates his own world through his consciousness. This is another factor of existentialism Gardner refutes, and in addition, he uses this example to reference the popular existentialist movement of society in the 1960’s. Gardner responds to those who alienated themselves after World War II and Vietnam stating that if one clings to existentialism, then an external situation, or “being-in-itself,” should not incite feelings of despair; only one’s individual actions are cause for suffering and agony.

In addition, Gardner makes statements about the nature of existentialists. Through Grendel’s conversion from a humanistic character to a murderer, he shows that existentialism creates corruption and monstrosity in society (Mason 104). Also, Grendel “hammers the ground with [his] fists” (Gardner 3) in frustration at the world and the society he constructs in his mind. His desire for those around him to go beyond “staring at as much of the world as he can see” (6) represents Gardner’s plea for society to look beyond their construction of an absurd life. He believes his job as a writer is to “affirm the goodness of life and the badness of thinking you’ve got the whole answer” (Bellamy 21).

The next character infused with existentialism is the Dragon. The Dragon portrays an evangelist of existentialism, and Gardner hopes to inform readers of the negative aspects of succumbing to this philosophy. Gardner depicts the dragon as a negative, disturbing “beast” with “cold” eyes and a guarded collection of “gold, gems, and jewels” (Gardner 57). This positions the character as a materialistic, selfish, and greedy “old man” (58). He allows the readers to pass judgment on the Dragon, giving them the picture of an evil “miser,” (58) before revealing his vocal and intellectual characteristics. This initial judgment shows how society often gathers a narrow opinion without true understanding of a situation, or philosophy in this case. Gardner ascribes to the Dragon the voice of an “old old man” in order to address a stereotype about philosophers as being old fashioned and outdated. This also applies to the existential craze in America which becomes just as interesting to Gardner as “boobies, hemorrhoids, [and] boils” (59).

The dragon influences Grendel to make a complete existential conversion, showing how easily thoughts are manipulated. Grendel begins the conversation with an attitude that he needs to leave humans alone, as well as abstain from scaring them “for sport” (Gardner 61). However, the Dragon refutes this attitude while claiming to “know everything,” (Gardner 61) and the character of Grendel quickly accepts the Dragon’s vision of a meaningless universe (Ellis 48). As Grendel makes his “long dull fall of eternity” (Gardner 61) into existentialism, he loses admiration, beauty, and hope toward life, plunging further into the nothingness of existence. Grendel believes “stars, like jewels scattered in a dead king’s grave, tease, torment my wits towards meaningful patterns that do not exist” (Gardner 11). Grendel pushes himself away from the natural, divine beauty that lies in the stars and focuses on material “jewels” as well as his primitive desires.

The conversation between Grendel and the Dragon emphasizes easy deception and manipulation by those with questionable wisdom. The dragon communicates his philosophy like “an old man” while converting Grendel into a creature who believes that nothing of importance exists outside of the individual. The meaninglessness of life prophesied by the Dragon recognizes Gardner’s feelings about the limitations of existentialism and the people conforming to existentialism during the years prior to the 1971 publication of Grendel. Although these people have been faced with war, violence, and disillusionment, they cling to the popular movement without thought or argument as to other possible explanations. In the same way, Grendel concedes to the Dragon without resistance. The Dragon begins to control both the metaphysical and physical functions of Grendel (Ellis 52). The Dragon’s philosophy matches that of the society Gardner satirizes, with thoughts that “things come and go” as well as the opinion that each event is just “a swirl in the stream of time” (70). On the other hand, Gardner provides a solution repairing the problems found in existentialist philosophy. He gives society a new hope within the character of the Shaper.

In John Gardner’s world, the cure for despair lies within the character of the Shaper. In the novel, the Shaper tells stories to the court, and these stories portray the warriors as victorious heroes. The Shaper’s poetry allows the people of Hrothgar’s kingdom to find relief during difficult times of violence and destruction. The Shaper helps the kingdom prosper while promoting ideas of heroism and sacrifice (Winther 23). He sings of “a glorious meadhall whose light would shine to the ends of the ragged world” (Gardner 47). The Danes find a purpose to live from the serious and dignified poems about the beauty of men’s glory (Mason 105). “The Shaper comes along in a meaningless, stupid kingdom and makes up a rationale. He creates the heroism… he makes the people brave, and sure, it’s a lie, but it’s also a vision” (105).

The Shaper promotes a lifestyle of courage and nobility, while the Dragon believes in meaninglessness and greed. Although the Shaper’s vision is not an accurate account of the daily activities of the Danes, it seduces Grendel with its power and meaningful words (McWilliams 31). However, Grendel’s perception of the human’s lifestyle is different from that of the Shaper. This difference relates to John Gardner’s own fiction, which informs readers the importance of looking at a situation from a new, previously unaddressed perspective. This re-affirms Gardner’s argument that society in the 1960’s pursues a philosophical trend without questioning its ideas.

Throughout history, people have used art to make statements or respond to society. In Grendel, John Gardner takes the familiar story of Beowulf and allows many readers an opportunity to look beyond one way of thinking into a new, previously unacknowledged perspective. Gardner is responding to the popular trend of existentialism in the 1960’s, lead by Jean Paul Sartre, and he pleads for society to open their minds and truly discover other perspectives regarding life.

Works Cited

Bellamy, Joe David and Pat Ensworth. “John Gardner.” Conversations with John Gardner. Ed. Allan Chavkin. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1990. 6-27.

Ellis, Helen and Warren Ober. “Grendel and Blake: The Contraries of Existence.” John Gardner: Critical Perspectives. Ed. Robert A. Morace and Kathryn VanSpanckeren. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1982. 46-61.

“Existentialism.” Oxford English Dictionary. 24 Apr. 2003 <>.

Gardner, John. Grendel. New York: Vintage Books, 1971.

Harvey, Marshall. “Where Philosophy and Fiction Meet: An Interview with John Gardner.” Conversations with John Gardner. Ed. Allan Chavkin. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1990. 84-98.

Mason, Kenneth. “Of Monsters and Men: Sartrean Existentialism and John Gardner’s Grendel.” Thor’s Hammer: Essays on John Gardner. Ed. Jeff Henderson. University of Central Arkansas Press, 1985. 101-110.

McWilliams, Dean. John Gardner. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1990.

Nutter, Ronald Grant. A Dream of Peace: Art and Death in the Fiction of John Gardner. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., 1997.

Winther, Per. The Art of John Gardner: Instruction and Exploration. New York: State University of New York Press, 1992.

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Analysis of the Role of Grendel As Depicted By John Gardner in His Book and the Classic Verse Composition Beowulf

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

Grendel Vs. Grendel

In the epic poem Beowulf, Grendel is seen as pure evil and nothing more. He brings bad things and he kills loved ones. The epic poem just shows him as a monster who needs to be killed. In John Gardners novel, Grendel, the monster is showed as bringing good things through his evil, like art and poetry. Grendel is also depressed and confused. He is confused about how he should view life. In the end it doesnt matter because he is still confused and the humans kill him.

Grendel, as shown in John Gardners novel, is a story of the struggle of good versus evil. John Gardner shows that neither good can not exist without evil. Just like beauty and ugliness, good and evil are only definitely in contrast of one another. If there was nothing that was beautiful then nothing could be ugly. So, having no such thing as good would make evil non-existent. In Grendel, Gardner describes this concept with a confused and depressed monster and the society of humans he terrorizes.

Throughout the novel, the monster, Grendel, is confused with how he wants to view life. He can either view life like the dragon or like the humans that he kill. This problem makes Grendel go on his rampages and kill the humans. He wants to view life as the humans at times because of the Sharper. The Sharper gets Grendels attention by his songs, they bring up emotions in Grendel that he doesnt like and he goes on his rampages. Then at other times he wants to get the knowledge of the dragon and he goes on his rampages of the human village because he cant have this knowledge. When the dragon and Grendel meet, the dragon tell Grendel something that changes his outlook and in a way gives him self-confidence. The dragon tells Grendel that he stimulates the humans and inspires their poetry and art. He is telling Grendel that you are evil and they are good, but they are good because of you. Grendel’s evil motivates the fearful people to work, to strive, to think, and to overcome their problems. The humans need Grendel and they pushed him to be the monster that he is. Grendel is actually producing good. Amazingly, he manages to be both evil and good at the same time.

Also, Grendel could not survive without the good humans. He thrives off of killing people, not because he is hateful, but because it gives him a purpose in life. The songs of the Shaper drive him to do evil things. Grendel understands that the songs are important to him and his life, but he still doesnt like them.

The novel, Grendel, and the epic poem, Beowulf, in my opinion arent really talking about the same Grendel. It is still the same story, but not the same character. In the novel we understand Grendel and we understand why he did the evil things that he did. We find out that he is confused about his life. The story is really about the struggle between good and evil and how one cant exist without the other. Grendel is evil and good and so are the humans. They both do bad things and they both do good things. The epic poem is just a story about a hero, Beowulf, that comes from another land to save the day. The poem doesnt show anything about what Grendel was feeling. Maybe, in the poem, he wasnt feeling anything. Maybe he was just a heartless monster. In the novel, Grendel isnt just a heartless blood-thirsty monster, he is evil and good. He was important to his victims because he brought good with his evil. Grendel didnt really want to feed on humans. The humans expected this evil of him and they wanted him to be a monster. The humans needed Grendel and they pushed him to be the monster that he is.

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Grendel’s Point Of View In Beowulf As The Perfect Hero/Villain

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

“Once upon a time, someone decided that we were the losers. But there are two sides to every story. And our side has not been told!” says Prince Charming to a room full of “villains” who are left to rot after their adversaries were given “happily ever after” (Shrek the Third). They feel wronged, and justifiably so. Why are they labeled the “bad guys?” How is the hero of a story determined? Is he the victim of fate, against whom all odds are set? The one who fights for their glory and the honor of their ancestors, no matter what the cost? Or, as Norse mythology would say, the one who fights the hardest, but still comes up short (Hamilton 443)? What about the villain? After all, there must be someone for the hero to fight against, an adversary. But how can one tell the difference? In Beowulf, it is almost universally accepted that Beowulf is the hero meant to defeat the villain, Grendel. But a close look at the story reveals the rarely told tale of Grendel, who despite dishonor and pain still fights to right the wrongs done to him and his ancestors. He follows a traditional Norse hero pattern, fighting to the last of his strength, but ultimately coming up short. When Beowulf is explored from Grendel’s point of view, it becomes apparent that the division between hero and villain lies in the eyes of the beholder.

Grendel’s life prior to the story can be seen as tragic and cruel by most standards. From the beginning, he has been an outcast of the world, for no greater crime than his existence. His “whole ancestry is hidden in a past / of demons and ghosts” (Heaney 1356-7). Immediately he is set as inferior to men, since it is said he has no father. In Medieval Norse society, a person’s identity was based so heavily on their father, that to claim someone does not have one is to steal an element of their individuality. He was also from “Cain’s clan, whom the creator had outlawed/ and condemned as outcast” (Heaney 106-107). Cain, who had killed his brother Abel in the early days of creation, had doomed himself and his descendants to be “a fugitive and a wanderer” (Coogan Gen 4:12). Grendel has no control over his ancestry, yet because of their crimes he daily suffers the hatred of not only humanity, but also the divine. God, “the creator,” has turned his back on Grendel, making his life a living hell. Now he is reduced to “dwell[ing] for a time/ in misery among the banished monsters” (Heaney 104-5). For company, Grendel has only those more lonely and dejected than himself. He is not welcome among more civilized crowds. It is from these humble and humiliating beginnings that a hero is formed. It is in Grendel’s already lowly position that insult is added to injury. Grendel’s peace is disrupted daily by “the din of the loud banquet” that occurs every night from “Heorot,” the drinking hall of King Hrothgar (Heaney 88). Even the author of the poem, who seems to side with the Danes, implies the noise created by the celebration is excessive. What are they celebrating? The very thing that cuts Grendel to the quick. They sing “of man’s beginnings,/ how the Almighty had made the earth/ a gleaming plain girdled with waters” (Heaney 91-3). They hearken back to that time before Cain had fallen, of everything that Grendel and his ancestors had lost – the beautifully created plains and waters, the favor of God. For this beauty that man now enjoys alone, the Danes are praising the God who has banished Grendel to his life of misery. The Danes even have the nerve to sing of it as their own glorious beginning, without a thought for those to whom the last little bit of paradise has been taken. Such bitter memories aroused in such an unpleasant manner are enough to upset anyone.

This arrogance on the part of the Danes in the face of Grendel’s misfortune causes Grendel to seek out justice. In the face of such insult, what is there left for Grendel to do? In the world of the medieval Scandinavia, it would be cowardly to let such injustice slide. Grendel takes the only option that will not lead him to disgrace. He fights back savagely, killing many. Victory is almost his. He would be able to avenge not only his own plight, but also that of every demon that has come before him. He becomes the champion of the demons. Grendel is able to destroy that wretched mead hall, something that “no Shielding elder would believe/ there was any power or person upon the earth capable of wrecking” (Heaney 777-9). It was an ornate, human built structure where men were merry in their pride and power. The Danes had thought it indestructible. But is seems Grendel is about to succeed. No one can hurt him, since “no blade on earth…could ever damage their demon opponent” (Heaney 801-2). After all of these years, justice will be served, as seen by the seemingly mystical protection that surrounds Grendel. Grendel seems to have the victory finally, and rightfully, secured. But in true Norse fashion, Grendel comes up just short of victory. For where many men fail, one man with an iron grip is able to outlast even Grendel. For “Beowulf was granted/ the glory of winning; Grendel was driven under the fen-banks” (Heaney 818-9). In the end, Grendel has gained little honor and lost so much more. He dies in disgrace, driven from the hall, while his adversary is honored with more drink and fine jewels. Beowulf, is rewarded with yet another feast, so big that “no group ever gathered in bigger numbers” (Heaney 1010). The whole of the Earth is celebrating Grendel’s pain. The champion of the demons has fallen to a meddler. The victor could hardly be less deserving of such honor.

Though orphaned at a young age, Beowulf grew up in the care of the king, treated “no worse…than one of his own boys” (Heaney 2432-3). Unlike Grendel, Beowulf has had every advantage in life. He has been treated well by his adopted parents and has never been shunned or isolated. Even when he was little, he had a place of honor among mortals. His family is also without shame. Though Beowulf might not know his real father, his father’s glory still lives on in him. He is often called “son of Ecgtheow,” passing the father’s honor onto the son. Before Beowulf can even walk, he has respect from his ancestry of warriors, something that Grendel could not even imagine. Beowulf has nothing to redeem and little to prove. He is simply a giant bully, fighting for the sake of fighting. It is to this unworthy man that Grendel falls. The fact that Beowulf will be honored for generations to come is the icing on the cake of Grendel’s tragic story.

Despite the story’s clear bias to Beowulf as the hero (his name is the title of the story after all), upon closer inspection it becomes clear that in the Norse tradition, the true tragic hero is Grendel. Grendel fights to redeem his ancestry and his past, challenging the humans who have shunned him for years in order to gain back the respect that was once lost. Unfortunately, he is unable to gain the justice he seeks so desperately. Instead, he is forced to leave in disgrace, and be forever remembered as the evil demon who almost destroyed the Danes. It is only through close investigation that the plight of Grendel comes into focus. Before making a judgment of who are the heroes and the villains, it is important to hear both sides of the story.

Works Cited

  1. Coogan, Michael David. The New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version, with the Apocrypha: An Ecumenical Study Bible. New York: Oxford UP, 2010. Print.
  2. Hamilton, Edith. Mythology. Boston: Back Bay, 1998. Print. Heaney, Seamus. Beowulf: A New Verse Translation. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2001. Print.
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Analysis of Alas, Poor Grendel Article Novel

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

In the article “Alas, Poor Grendel,” Robert L. Chapman analyzes the author of Beowulf and the author’s beliefs based on his depiction of Grendel in the poem. By drawing his own conclusions and using other sources for support, Chapman points out that the poet expresses sympathy toward Grendel, despite all the harsh terms used for his description. He uses numerous phrases and makes it clear that Grendel is doomed and destined to a sad, miserable, evil life. He knew that the monster was cursed at birth due to being Cain’s descendant; however, that is not the monster’s fault. Grendel was who he was because of his nature, and not because of his will, therefore making him the victim of God. Despite all his murders, Grendel technically hasn’t committed a sin because he never went against his destiny or the will of God. The author of the poem depicted compassion and sympathy for Grendel in his work because he thought this fate to be unfair, thereby demonstrating his “incomplete commitment to the doctrine of Providence, and that it betokens not a naive orthodoxy but a disingenuous reservation” (Chapman 335). It is unclear how a self-conscious Christian could have felt compassion for such a demonic beast. The poet either had a problem realizing Grendel, had two contrasting emotions and went back and forth between them, which left the imprint on his work, or there was more than one author. However, it is also clear that the poet is still mainly concerned with Beowulf (the human), and possibly adjusted Grendel into a suitable opponent, since the monster was a new concept at the time. Finally, Chapman concludes that the poet was a “Christian not quite purged of pagan self-reliance” (337) or a “Christian tingles with Pelagianism” (337) whose sympathy for Grendel arises from unrestricted and unsubmissive human will.

I find it very interesting that you can talk about someone’s religion, morals, and beliefs based on their relation towards a character they created. By analyzing the time period when the poet wrote his work, Chapman is able to interpret the feelings expressed toward Grendel and where they originated from. However, I don’t agree with Chapman when he proposes the idea that the poet thought Grendel’s fate was unfair. Although there are contrasting feeligs formed towards Grendel, I believe that the purpose of that was to make the monster more interesting. Although the author does refer to Grendel as “demon” (133), “killer of souls” (177), “God-cursed brute” (121), and other strong terms, he does make it clear that Grendel was cursed at birth. By adding humane characteristics to Grendel, I think the monster becomes even more evil because he understands what he’s doing and the consequences of his actions. However, Grendel’s purpose in life is to fight heroes, and if he stops his demilitions, he will lose his purpose. In my opinion Grendel’s decision to choose himself over lives of many people is truly evil and selfshish. Therefore, the potential choices versus the choices made by Grendel demonstrate his true monstrousity, which I believe is what the author was trying to depict. As mentioned in the article, the author mainly sympothises Beowulf, who is a hero not like any other. Therefore, he needed a monster that would be not like any other. By showing Grendel’s selfishness, the author relates him closer to humans and gives him dimension, which makes him a worthy enemy.

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Grendel’s Solipsism and Its Consequences

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

In 1971, John Gardner changed the way people think about the English epic Beowulf when he published his novel Grendel. In his retelling of the story from the monster Grendel’s perspective, he repeatedly makes references to the philosophy of solipsism: the belief that one’s self is the only thing that exists and matters. As Gardner’s narrative progresses, Grendel’s solipsistic perspective proves to be exactly the trait that leads him to commit awful and sometimes evil acts.

In the beginning of the novel, as Grendel sets the stage and explains how his battle with the Scyldings began, he also establishes his solipsism. He states that he, “understood that the world was nothing: a mechanical chaos of casual, brute enmity on which we stupidly impose our hopes and fears. I understood that, finally and absolutely, I alone exist. All the rest, I saw, is merely what pushes me, or what I push against, blindly — as blindly as all that is not myself pushes back. I create the whole universe, blink by blink” (22). This is a classic outline of solipsism. Grendel believes that the rest of the world he can see and interacts with only exists in relation to himself. In this way, the Danes only exist to provide Grendel with an enemy or with amusement and relief from his boredom. Grendel also believes that he has the power to control what exists around him, changing things into what he wants them to be by will of his mind. He says, “The mountains are what I define them as.” (28).

However, solipsism becomes a harmful life philosophy when it comes to how one interacts with others. Because solipsists believe that no one outside themselves truly exists or matters, they can reason that their actions against others have no consequences. In regards to others, Grendel says, “The world is all pointless accident,” (28) and “all that I do not see is useless, void.” (29). Since Grendel believes these things to be true, it does not seem morally wrong for him to torture and kill humans. After all, to him they do not really exist. It is morally acceptable to Grendel to terrorize them for his own gain and amusement because he is the only thing that really exists in the world. Therefore, can we really hold Grendel accountable for things that he did while only ever knowing and believing in a branch of philosophy that tells him it is not morally incorrect to do this?

In Chapter 7 of the novel, Grendel for the first time stops short of an evil act when he leaves Wealtheow alive after attacking her and intending to murder her. Grendel acts morally, leaving her alive because Wealtheow challenges Grendel’s solipsism, which is what leads him to commit immoral acts. In contrast to the belief that only oneself exists, Wealtheow is the picture of selflessness, putting others before herself. Wealtheow has willingly agreed to marry her brother’s enemy in order to save her own people. She acts with kindness towards Hrothgar’s people, even serving them in their meadhall. Her actions confuse Grendel and, though subconsciously, cause him to doubt his own beliefs. This is why he allows her to live, even though solipsism tells him that her life does not matter.

In the final stages of the novel, Grendel is forced by Beowulf to reject his solipsism. After Beowulf slams his head into a wall, forcing him to admit that the wall exists outside of him and that he did not create it, Grendel says, “Every rock, every tree, every crystal of snow cries out cold-blooded objectness…I understand” (172). In his last moments, Grendel accepts that his solipsistic view of the world is incorrect. He is aware that everything and everyone he has encountered throughout his life actually does exist. He says, “Animals gather around me, enemies of old, to watch me die. I give them what I hope will appear a sheepish smile” (173). Now that Grendel has rejected solipsism and understands the existence of those around him, he has a chance to understand morals and to not act as a monster. However, because Beowulf has torn off his arm, it is too late for Grendel.

The motif of Grendel’s solipsism appears repeatedly throughout the novel, giving the reader a way to understand why Grendel commits the horrendous acts he does. This is important to the novel, because one of the main things the novel aims to do is turn a character who was previously seen only as a villain into one towards whom people can be sympathetic. Readers understand that Grendel’s solipsism is what causes him to lack a moral compass, giving more insight into the iconic character from Beowulf.

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Signs of Astrology, Shown in Grendel as Symbols

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

In the novel Grendel, by John Gardner, the author associates each chapter with a different astrological sign, such as Aries, Gemini, and Sagittarius, not only to enhance the role of nature in the story, but also to better chronologize Grendel’s growth and retreat in his philosophical development. Furthermore, this designation even mimics that which he struggles to grasp: the knowledge of the continuation of the universe without him after his death, even though his world has come to an end.

Beginning the novel with the first sign, Aries, Gardner introduces the stereotypical trait of cyclical thinking. The ram, which is the symbol for Aries, indicates another spring coming around, spurring Grendel to lash out as he finds himself trapped in an “endless progression of moon and stars” (p.5). Not only does the “cyclical” trait indicate that Grendel is frustrated with the never-ending loop he feels stuck in, but it also, along with the mention of “moon and stars”, clues the reader in to the use of the signs as a vehicle to communicate Grendel’s own cycle from existentialist on to empiricist on to nihilist and back once again. In other words, the affirmation that Grendel’s own existence is, in itself, the very circular, repetitive process that he abhors.

The reader travels along with Grendel through his experiences and phases of philosophical thought. From him realizing that he “alone creates the universe, blink by blink” (p.22) after being attacked by the bull of Taurus— ushering in his stay in an existential mindset —to his head “splitting” (p.44) into dual realities under Gemini. That split within him— a creation of Gemini’s symbol, twins —is used to illustrate the fervor and inner turmoil he feels as he is torn between that newfound existentialism and the inviting lies of religion that the Shaper brings along. The Shaper, a harp-player who sings of a loving God to the Danes, the residents of young King Hrothgar’s mead hall, is a display as well of those quick-witted and smoothly eloquent Gemini traits that he utilizes to trap the subjects under the pleasant lies of a benevolent force that drives all things to happen for a reason; allowing the emotional humans to feel that their struggles are not in vain. Grendel, however, his cold and inhuman audience, becomes stuck somewhere between the notions of the inanimate, unfeeling universe he feels he has come to know and a fatherly, caring, Cancer-esque God painted by this man who nourishes and nurtures through false hope— what he finds he has the ability to want and be seduced by, just as the Danes do and can.

Later on in the novel, when Grendel has accepted his role as “the Destroyer” (p. 72-73) and as a nihilist, both ideas presented to him by the Leo-likened Dragon, he initiates himself as such by wreaking havoc on the mead hall. During this attack, the reader suddenly finds themselves in a grave realization that Grendel’s life will soon end; a sudden deviation that yanks them away from their previous vantage point they shared with him. Under the sign of Sagittarius, whose image is an archer, Grendel sees a Scylding hunter fell a hart with a bow and arrow— foreshadowing his own fast-approaching demise. The demolition of his philosophical growth is also brought on as he stumbles upon the false priests who preach religion but practice nothing— representative of the centaur (the half-man, half-horse beast) who is the archer of Sagittarius. As Grendel unknowingly and uncaringly awaits the coming of the “water bearer” (p.151) of Pisces— the Geat Beowulf —that will ultimately end him, he observes as both his nihilistic mindset and his attraction to religion are ended by the quasi-priests being exposed.

It is only when that sea-bearer comes and occupies Grendel’s self-centered, one-creature world, displaying the Piscean emphasis on connectedness within the universe that Grendel’s Aquarian individuality plays a stark contrast against, that he returns to exactly where he was when the story began. Once again finding himself as a helpless cog in the ever-churning world that he can choose to create within or be run by, he realizes that he can never escape until he is forced out by death, at that moment being administered gruesomely to him by Beowulf.

Throughout the novel, Gardner provides symbols of the signs or traits of the signs to illustrate Grendel’s circular growth and regression in his views regarding the universe, but it is ultimately at his time of demise that provides a true representation the vicious cycle he battles and loses against­­­— as we all do.

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Review of Characters which Suffer Immensely in “Notes from Underground” written by Fyodor Dostoevsky and “Grendel” written by John Gardner

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

Notes from Underground written by Fyodor Dostoevsky and Grendel written by John Gardner are both novels which contain characters who suffer immensely as the novel progresses. Notes from Underground is a novel about a man, deprived of beneficial social interactions, who is trying to relate the world to European literature but is failing completely. The novel Grendel reflects Grendel’s twelve years at war and his inability to accept the beauty of the human mind. What both of these characters are suffering from is leading to their isolation from the rest of the world and this is ultimately their weakness. “Why, we don’t even know where this “real life” lives nowadays, what it really is, and what it’s called. Leave us alone without books and we’ll get confused and lose our way at once—we won’t know what to join, what to hold on to, what to love or what to hate, what to respect or what to despise” (Dostoevsky 91). This is a perfect example of the underground man choosing to isolate himself from society and contemplate all the things that could happen if humans were left alone without books. He is choosing to suffer by trying to figure this out because it does nothing but frustrate him. “I understood that the world was nothing; a mechanical chaos of casual, brute enmity on which we stupidly impose our hopes and fears. I understood that, finally and absolutely, I alone exist.” Grendel has this thought when he is being attacked by a bull and thinks that because he is being attacked, the whole world is destructive just like the bull. Although Grendel is suffering from being attacked by the bull, he is using it as something more to suffer from, He is making himself feel like he is alone and the only one who suffers. He then uses this experience to find the existence of such patterns, the patterns being suffering. Both these examples show readers that Grendel and the underground man are suffering to an extent further than necessary. They are using their personal experiences and isolating themselves to turn the situation around to feel like it is them against the world when in reality everyone suffers.

Suffering is the main concept the authors are trying to incorporate throughout their texts. In Grendel, we get to see what Grendel goes through and how he actually feels rather than what was portrayed of Grendel in the novel Beowulf. In Grendel, Grendel truly does suffer. Grendel is suffering the pain of isolation. Grendel has his mother to build a relationship with but she lacks the ability to speak leading him to feel alone. Throughout the novel we find Grendel speaking to nonliving elements and never hearing a response, trapping him in his own thoughts. “So childhood too feels good at first, before one happens to notice the terrible sameness, age after age” (Gardner 9). Here, Grendel is talking about being a child and even then feeling like an outsider. Age after age, he finally starts realizing that he is going through the same circle of isolation, and this is what he suffers from most. At first he is so happy to be experiencing what he is because it is all new but once he had experienced it and realized he was alone through it he figured out it was not what he wanted. “I would feel, all at once, alone and ugly, almost—as if I’d dirtied myself—obscene. The cavern river rumbled far below us. Being young, unable to face these things, I would bawl and hurl myself at my mother and she would reach out her claws and seize me, though I could see I alarmed her (I had teeth like a saw), and she would smash me against her fat, limp breast as if to make me part of her flesh again” (Gardner 17). This is when Grendel talks about suffering even as a child. Grendel, unable to control his ugliness and not able to face it at such a young age, would throw himself at his mother, scaring her. He knew this scared her, yet he did it. This shows readers that Grendel did not care to make the relationship with his mother better and because he could not control his ugliness he would try to make the case worse. Grendel is humanized in this section so readers do not judge him for his poor choices and so they can see how he is suffering but it is still hard to have pity on such a creature who has no desire to interact positively with his surroundings.

In Notes from Underground, the underground man considers himself a free man. He is suffering from self-inflicting pain, which he is choosing to do. This is shown when he will not accept the fact that 2+2=4, when it has been proven by mathematicians. The choice of whether or not to accept this is his own but contradicting it after knowing it has been proven is what makes him suffer. What is the point of doing this one might ask? The underground justifies this with logical arguments, which is very confusing for the readers since his “logical arguments” are rather illogical to us. “Of course, what don’t people think up out of boredom! Why, even gold pins get stuck into other people out of boredom, but that wouldn’t matter. What’s really bad (this is me talking again) is that for all I know, people might even be grateful for those gold pins” (Dostoevsky 18). This is evidence here that the underground man is choosing to suffer as an alternative to being bored. This is the difference between the underground man and Grendel. Grendel actually suffered from isolation while the underground man is suffering because he is overthinking and trying to find an explanation for everything and anything. Maybe this is telling readers that the underground man actually enjoys suffering and is enduring it because he can and realizes the pain of it. “And why are you so firmly, so triumphantly convinced that only the normal and positive—in short, only well-being is advantageous to man? Doesn’t reason ever make mistakes about advantages? After all, perhaps man likes something other than well-being? Perhaps he loves suffering just as much? Perhaps suffering is just as advantageous to him as well-being? Man sometimes loves suffering terribly, to the point of passion, and that’s a fact.” (Dostoevsky 25). Here we see that the underground man is trying to justify that man could possibly enjoy suffering. When one is suffering they are conscious of what is happening to them. They know that what they are going through is not something they would let happen willingly. Then he suggests that the consciousness of knowing is causing the suffering.

Both novels, Notes from Underground and Grendel, contain characters which suffer immensely. Although readers notice that in Notes from Underground, the underground man is choosing to suffer because of his boredom and isolation from mankind, we can see that Grendel is suffering because of his inability to communicate with others. Both characters are suffering but it is evident that one is suffering without the choice. Gardner is using human characteristics to make Grendel more relatable to humans and make us sympathize with him. We have clear evidence that Grendel is suffering and unable to fix it while we see that the underground man could just stop by overthinking and analyzing everything. The meaning of the texts is to show readers the different types of suffering. This is shown using their personal experiences and isolating themselves to turn the situation around to feel like it is them against the world when in reality everyone suffers.

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