Grendel Is Not Evil? Essay

Grendel Is Not Evil? Essay

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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 well as Grendel’s clear capability of emotions which are not malicious. Through his description of Grendel’s resistance to his impulses, illustration of his susceptibility to emotion, and cultivation of sympathy towards the so-called “protagonist” of his novel, Gardner intimates that if Grendel can be clearly defined as evil, so can all of humanity.
To invalidate the argument that Grendel is evil due to his actions, readers should first examine Gardner’s description of Grendel’s evil impulses. Grendel, while listening to the Shaper’s song, mused at how “. . they’d [the men, women, and children listening] shriek if I suddenly showed I face. . . but I held myself back,” (Gardner 50). For a reason which is unbeknownst to the reader, Grendel chooses to refrain from his compulsion to do evil. That is not to say that there is not a source of malice within the ogre; the wretched creature acknowledges “some evil inside [himself]” more than once within the novel (Gardner 54). However, many religions ...


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...tend 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 Shakur).

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