Essay The Humanization of Grendel

Essay The Humanization of Grendel

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John Gardner’s Grendel is the retelling of the heroic epic poem Beowulf; however, the viewpoint has shifted. Grendel is told from the viewpoint of one of Beowulf’s antagonists and the titular character of Gardner’s work—Grendel. In Grendel, Gardner humanizes Grendel by emphasizing parallels between Grendel’s life and human life. Through Gardner’s reflection of human feelings, human development, and human flaws in Grendel, this seemingly antagonistic, monstrous character becomes understood and made “human.”
Grendel exhibits human feelings and characteristics in many ways. Although Grendel is a monster “forced into isolation by his bestial appearance and limited imagination” (Butts) he yearns to be a part of society; he craves companionship while he is isolated. With his “ear pressed tight against the timbers [of Hart]” (43), he watches and listens to the humans and what goes on in Hart, the meadhall of King Hrothgar, to feel like he is a part of civilization. He also has feelings in relation to specific humans. Just like the citizens of Denmark, he is extremely affected by the Shaper and his songs that are “aswim in ringing phrases, magnificent, golden, all of them, incredibly, lies” (43). Grendel is profoundly “moved by the power of the Shaper’s poetry” (Butts). Queen Wealtheow shows Grendel the feminine, sweet, and kind side of life. “She had secret wells of joy that overflowed to them all” and her peaceful effect on those around her is a main cause of Grendel’s almost obsessive fascination with her and in turn, drives Grendel to feelings of rage. Grendel’s humanlike feelings show that his personality is similar to that of a human, helping those who read his story to relate to him.
Gardner adds to the humanlike char...


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...owards Grendel. Gardner’s retelling of Beowulf reinforces the universal idea that there are two, if not more, sides to every story. It is prudent to remember that what is monstrous to some may be perfectly normal to others and recognizing all viewpoints can help bring about a truth: good and evil are not always clear-cut.

Works Cited
Butts, Leonard. "The Monster as Artist: Grendel and Freddy's Book.” The Novels of

John Gardner: Making Life Art as a Moral Process. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1988. 86-110. Rpt. in Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Ed.

Thomas J. Schoenberg and Lawrence J. Trudeau. Vol. 195. Detroit: Gale, 86-110. Literature Resource Center. Gale. Tulsa City County Library. 22 Oct. 2009 .

Gardner, John. Grendel. New York: Vintage Books, 1971.

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