Free Grendel Essays: Good Requires Evil

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Good Requires Evil in Grendel The classic struggle of good versus evil is taken from a different perspective in Grendel, a story in which John Gardner demonstrates that neither one can exist without the other. As in the parallel comparison of beauty to ugliness, it can be seen that good and evil are only identifiable in their contrast of one another. If there was nothing defined as beautiful, for instance, nothing could be ugly. There would be no such concept. Similarly, having no definition of good would make evil, too, a non-existent idea. In Grendel, Gardner grasps this thought, and maximizes its importance with the help of a horrendously confused monster and the society that he terrorizes. Throughout the novel, this monster, Grendel, seems confused as to whether he wants to view life like his existentialistic dragon mentor, or like the ignorantly optimistic humans on which he feeds. At times he is captivated by the romantic songs of the Shaper, and feels no desire to kill, while at others he thrives on the "knowledge" of the dragon, and goes on bloody rampages. At one point during Grendel's insecure state, the dragon tells him something that changes his outlook, and gives him a new feeling of self-worth. "You improve them, my boy! Can't you see that? yourself? You stimulate them! You make them think and scheme. You drive them to poetry, science, religion, all that makes them what they are for as long as they last. You are, so to speak, the brute existent by which they learn to define themselves. The exile, captivity, death they shrink from--the blunt facts of their mortality, their abandonment--that's what you make them recognize, embrace! You are mankind, or man's condition: inseparable as the mountain-climber and the mountain." (72-3) In short, the dragon is saying, "You are evil and they are good, but the only thing that makes them good is you." In this statement, it is apparent that good and evil have inseparable, yet undefinable boundaries, and are actually two in the same. Grendel's evilness motivates the fearful people to work, to strive, to think, and to overcome their problems. In this, however indirect or abstract it may seem, Grendel is actually producing good. Amazingly, he manages to be both evil and good at the same time. On the other hand, it is obvious that "evil" Grendel could not survive without the "good" humans.

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