The Importance Of Good And Evil In John Gardner's Grendel

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As children, we were taught that good and evil were black and white terms. The fairy tales that our parents would read to us have conditioned us to believe that characters such as the princess in distress or the prince in shining armour were nothing but friendly and good, while the troll guarding his own bridge or the fire-breathing dragon were the most frighteningly evil creatures of all. However, as we grew up, we learned that these distinctions are never so easily black and white, but more-so different shades of grey. We learned that the characters that we initially deemed evil had reasons for acting that way, and most of them out of their control. Such is the case with the main character in John Gardner’s Grendel. The character Grendel…show more content…
In order to save her brother and her kingdom, she willingly became queen to King Hrothgar, and thus was named as the “holy servant of the common good” (Grendel 100). She seemed so enchanting that even Grendel described her as “beautiful, as innocent as dawn on winter hills” (Grendel 100). To all, Wealtheow seemed to embody all the good of humanity- she was strong, innocent, and kind. At least, until Grendel decided to challenge that belief. In a fit of rage, he bursts through the meadhall door, and pushes aside anyone in his path towards the queen. Once he has her, surrounded by a circle of unsure guards, he describes her “unqueenly shrieks” as if they were the “squeals of a pig” (Grendel 109). As he contemplates what to do next he notices the acts of those around him. “No one would defend her, not even suicidal Unferth” he explains, even after she calls for help, yet they were all willing to pray to their “dead stick-gods” to save her (Grendel 109). The gods do nothing. In his single act of threatening the queen, Grendel reveals that the queen is no angel, that Unferth is no hero, and the gods no help to the humans. Through these actions, Grendel tries to prove to himself and to the Scyldings that nothing is ever completely good or evil. If their most pure and brave candidates couldn’t be proven to be fully good, how could they say that he is completely evil? What Grendel tries to teach to the humans is a basic fact of life: you cannot have good without having

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