The Stain of Cain

1950 Words8 Pages
Epic poems are usually black and white; there is a superhuman good-guy and a powerful but doomed villain that he will defeat. As readers, we have always assumed that the hero is the person with the good values and unwavering morals while the enemy is the strong and seemingly undefeatable spawn of pure evil. John Gardner had other ideas when he wrote Grendel based on the antagonist of the classic epic “Beowulf.” Quickly, the reader is immersed in Grendel’s thoughts and sees that he too is fighting inner demons. Just as in regular epics, Grendel’s main villains (for he hates almost everyone) are just composite beings of his true nemesis. Ultimately, Grendel was self-defeating since he dedicated his life to theology which cannot stand the test of time. Grendel constantly toys with different theologies throughout the novel. We see him try Solipsism in his youth, determining that “finally and absolutely, I alone exist. All the rest, I saw, was merely what pushes me, or what I push against, blindly—as blindly as all that is not myself pushes back” (22). This theory that nothing holds true meaning until he gives it meaning could only last so long. Soon, he was frightened that if this is true, he does not exist either, because he realizes that the only proof he has of his existence is that he thinks he exists, but means nothing at all if he does not exist. Grendel’s entire world is thrown off kilter—if he does not exist then everything he thinks exists does not exist either; but then what does? While he struggles with his own theology, he questions the faith of the villagers as well. When he overhears the Shaper recounting the story of Cain and Abel he states, “the brothers had never lived, nor the god who judged them” (51). Grendel can... ... middle of paper ... ...s when these scenarios become unavoidable that we crumble under the weighty guidelines of our belief, just like Grendel. So, when Grendel is bombarded with all the things he had previously disregarded, he is unable to comprehend it all. Had he, in his past when exploring all the theories, focused not on what he liked and disliked, but on where each one is weak and proven wrong, he perhaps would have found that none of them are infallible. Each of the above theories was disproven and contradictory to each other, but nobody focuses on their weaknesses because they are too concerned about finding the right one. It seems as if Gardner would like us all to live our lives open to all theories while keeping a healthy amount of skepticism, because all the contradictions between theologies and the points they strive to make together define the unpredictability of life itself.
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