A Modern Grendel


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In the epic poem Beowulf, the monster Grendel is depicted as a villainous beast with an unquenchable thirst for human flesh and blood. Grendel, written by John Gardner, though, offers a more nuanced depiction of the beast by describing the events in Beowulf through Grendel's narration. Throughout the story, Grendel adopts various romantic characteristics and beliefs including isolation, individualism, and mysticism. These romantic characteristics, though, foster Grendel's murderous intentions and in turn gives him an anti-hero persona. Nearing the end of the novel, his romantic antihero trends transforms his life into a never ending limbo. His only salvation comes in the form of death. Grendel's' inevitable demise represents inescapable fate.
Romanticism places a heavy focus on separation from society. In Gardner's novel, this romantic theme of isolation is echoed when Hrothgar's community rejects Grendel. Grendel, even before he discovers the humans, has always been in a sense alone. His mother is too inarticulate to be considered a truly fulfilling companion and the animals around him are too primitive to even communicate. The only creature that Grendel could ever truly bond with was the human race for they both shared the same language, and intellect. The humans, though, never embrace Grendel. The very first time Grendel attempts communicating with the humans, when he "staggered out into the open and up toward the hall...groaning out, 'Mercy !Peace!'"(51), results with him being nearly killed with spears, arrows, and swords. Humanity, his closest peer, rejects Grendel and forces the beast to live the rest of his life in isolation. But unlike in romanticism, in which isolation is viewed positively, Grendel's loneliness is shown to be more of a curse than as a boon. Grendel despises his loneliness and it turns him into a spiteful creature whose goal is to destroy Hrothgar. This dedication, fed by a hatred to his loneliness, results in Grendel's transition into an anti-hero. Rather than living peacefully in nature, Grendel chooses to be consumed by the romantic idea that society, specifically Hrothgar's society, is evil, corruptive, and destructive. For Grendel, he comes to the self-realization that he is, "Grendel, Ruiner of mead halls, Wrecker of Kings"(80), and it his duty and fate to kill and eat Hrothgar's citizens.
Isolation is not the only aspect of a romantic hero. Individualism and a person's ability to choose their own actions also play an important part. In Gardner's novel, Grendel acts on his own whim and does not follow the advice that others give him.

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For example, nearing the end of the novel, Grendel's mother attempts to keep him inside their underground home by getting, "between [them as if to lock them] up ... forever"(145). Grendel, though, ignores his mother's advances and continues to raid Hrothgar. His eventual decision to wage war on Herot was also completely individualistic. Grendel's individualism, though, also fosters is murderous capabilities and status as antihero. Although it is true that Grendel is completely self sufficient, Grendel's individualism makes him commit atrocious acts like the sadistic murder of innocent women, children, men, and various animal's. Individualism helps foster Grendel's ascension towards moral darkness. Without anyone to stop him, Grendel becomes a violent beast who chooses to kill humans simply out of enjoyment and spite.
In romanticism, there is usually an emphasis on magic. In this novel, Magic, such as charms or spells, are mentioned throughout. The most obvious case of magic, though, is the dragon's spell on Grendel and Hrothgar. The Dragon gives Grendel invincibility to Hrothgar's men's weapons. Hrothgar, on the other hand, is given invulnerability to Grendel. While, magic helps reinforce Grendel's romantic image, it also, though, is what makes Grendel become an antihero. Prior to the spell, Grendel did not intentionally go out and attack human beings. He neither had the intentions or the ability to do so. With the spell, that changes for it allows him to maim and kill as many humans as he wants without repercussions.
Grendel is a romantic antihero because he is isolated from society, individualistic, and influenced by magic. These romantic characteristics, though, result in making life for Grendel tedious, and boring. Grendel's isolation form society is so painful that his loneliness turns into spites towards humanity. But only when he was charmed through magic was he able to individualistically choose to declare war on the Danes. Every time he kills, though, Grendel fills with even more loneliness because the more people Grendel kills the more impossible it becomes for him to be integrated with the human society. This results in more loneliness and the in turn more bitterness. The more bitter he becomes, the more enraged he becomes at human society. Since he cannot kill Hrothgar, his spiteful desire against humanity cannot be fulfilled. By dedicating his life to the destruction of the Danes, Grendel dooms himself into a life of lonely solitude dictated by a pointless repetitive pattern of murder. The only salvation that Grendel could have was death by the hands of Beowolf.
The audience of the novel should have already read or have a brief knowledge of Beowulf. This implies that they already knew that Grendel was going to die. This sense of pre-knowledge alludes to Priest Ork's philosophy that humans can live only one life. Grendel is a romantic who despises the very aspects that make him one. He wanted for once be able to converse and be part of the human society. But, fate was already chosen for him. In this life, Grendel was meant to become a killer and therefore he could never had been a traditional hero. The idea that Grendel was already sentenced to death from the beginning alludes to the overall theme that people cannot live out multiple lives.



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