Grendel Is Not Evil, By John Gardner

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Evil. It’s a concept that has baffled philosophers, religious figures, and the common man alike for thousands of years. In this millennium, people may exemplify evil as terrorism, genocide, or, perhaps, placing an empty milk carton back in the refrigerator. However, many remain conflicted about the exact definition of evil, as the dispute over the character Grendel, from the John Gardner novel, makes evident. To conclude that Grendel is not evil, readers must first operate under the assumption that the beast is unequivocally and thoroughly evil. Having done so, readers will notice the fallacies within this thought process. By asserting that Grendel is evil, readers blatantly disregard the ambiguity with which humanity defines its actions, as…show more content…
In Chapter 8, Grendel exclaims, “I’m a machine. Like all of you. Blood-lust and rage are my character,” (Gardner 123). This profound statement establishes a connection between Grendel and the ambiguous “you,” the reader. The monster, though he confesses to his wrongdoing, asserts that readers are no better than he. Countless bible verses reiterate this concept: “For all have sinned,” (Romans 3:23) “[Humans] are all. .impure with sin,” (Isaiah 64:6). Gardner’s reminder to readers of mankind’s predisposition to sin earns pity for the monster. He expands on these sympathies by describing the nature of Grendel’s lonely existence. “But there was one thing worse,” Grendel states after discovering the dragon’s charm, “no weapon could cut me,” (Gardner 75). In this moment, nihilism overcomes Grendel; if fighting poses no danger, it has no purpose, and neither does he. Any reader who has had an experience which challenged his or her values cannot help but feel empathetic towards the purposeless creature. Perhaps more piteous, however, is the suggestion that Grendel has no choice in being “the dark side. . the terrible race God cursed,” (Gardner 51). The dragon condemns Grendel as “the brute existent by which [humans] learn to define themselves,” telling him that it is worthless to better his character (Gardner 72). It is not until after…show more content…
Many may contend that the novel’s main character, Grendel, is guilty of evil by virtue of his vile actions. However, Gardner’s description of Grendel’s resistance to evil impulses and capability of human emotions suggest that Grendel is simply responding to his environment. Furthermore, Gardner deftly accrues readers’ sympathies towards Grendel, making it difficult for the empathetic reader to condemn the monster ex officio. By forging connections between humanity and his protagonist, Gardner indicates that readers are equally as guilty of sin as Grendel. Through this implication, he insinuates that humans are unqualified to judge Grendel’s actions, and, perhaps, each other. After all, if Grendel can be called evil, can the same not be said of all of mankind? The novel’s ultimate truth seems to harken back to Tupac Shakur’s assertion that, “Only God can judge me,” (Tupac
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