Essay on Existentialism In Grendel

Essay on Existentialism In Grendel

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Existentialism In Grendel

The debate between existentialism and the rest of the world is a fierce, albeit recent one. Before the "dawn of science" and the Age Of Reason, it was universally accepted that there were such things as gods, right and wrong, and heroism. However, with the developing interest in science and the mechanization of the universe near the end of the Renaissance, the need for a God was essentially removed, and humankind was left to reconsider the origin of meaning. John Gardner’s intelligently written Grendel is a commentary on the merits and flaws of both types of worldview: the existentialist "meaning-free" universe, and the heroic universe, where every action is imbued with purpose and power. Indeed, the book raises many philosophical questions in regards to the meaning of life as well as to the way humans define themselves. Additionally, Gardner portrays continual analysis, and final approval, of existentialist viewpoints as one observes that the main character, Grendel, is an existentialist.

After having thoroughly read the book, there is no doubt that Grendel shows proof of support in existentialism. The novel follows the life of a character who is gradually "disillusioned," turning from a teary romantic into a cold nihilist. Indeed, as the main character describes his childhood/adolescence in the beginning of the novel, his naiveté and innocence clearly stand out. “And so I discovered the sunken door, and so I came up, for the first time, to moon light”, recalls Grendel, remembering his first days out on earth as he analyzed and discovered various creatures and his surroundings with blatant ignorance. With the story of his first encounter with men, after getting his foot stuck in a crac...


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...rence between Grendel and Beowulf, like that between heroism and existentialism, is meaning. Grendel kills without meaning, and Beowulf kills with meaning. A small difference, indeed, but it is the symbolic distinction between he that dies and he that survives. From Grendel's point of view, even his own end is meaningless; it is only an "accident" which happens to him. To Beowulf, it is a victory, a triumph, and a rebirth for humankind. Is Beowulf's perspective, according to Gardner, necessarily more valid? No. But Gardner also remarks that nihilism, true or not, must end in denial. Finally, he implies that existentialism is very different from nihilism. In a world where definition and meaning are not always clear, many, including Grendel, find comfort in existentialism and the assumption that people are entirely free in their, hopefully optimistic, quest for meaning.

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