Essay The Meaningless Life of Grendel in John Gardner's Grendel

Essay The Meaningless Life of Grendel in John Gardner's Grendel

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The Meaningless Life of Grendel in John Gardner's novel, Grendel

 
"People say that what we're all seeking is a meaning for life. I don't think that's what we're really seeking. I think that what we're seeking is an experience of being alive...." Joseph Campbell made this comment on the search for meaning common to every man's life. His statement implies that what we seem bent on finding is that higher spark for which we would all be willing to live or die; we look for some key equation through which we might tie all of the experiences of our life and feel the satisfaction of action toward a goal, rather than the emptiness which sometimes consumes the activities of our existence. He states, however, that we will never find some great pure meaning behind everything, because there is none. What there is to be found, however, is the life itself. We seek to find meaning so that emptiness will not pervade our every thought, our every deed, with the coldness of reality as the unemotional eye chooses to see it. Without color, without joy, without future, reality untouched by hope is an icy thing to view; we have no desire to see it that way. We forget, however, that the higher meaning might be found in existence itself. The joy of life and the experience of living are what make up true meaning, as the swirl of atoms guided by chaotic chance in which we find our existence has no meaning outside itself.

In John Gardner's novel, Grendel, the protagonist himself, Grendel the monster, loses sight of that joy in life when he forgets that it is the life itself for which he is living, not some outside force which governs his actions. In this slip, he dooms himself to a living death of machine-like actions culminating in his physical de...


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...life. In not seeking the connection between heart, mind, and soul, Grendel lives a disjointed life, fulfilling the prophecy of the dragon; all is meaningless, because it is meaningless to and through him. "Nihil ex nihilo, I always say."

Works Cited and Consulted:

Campbell, Joseph. The Power of Myth, New York: Doubleday, 1988.

Butts, Leonard. "The Monster as Artist: Grendel and Freddy's Book." The Novels of John Gardner. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1988. 86-110.

Gardner, John. Grendel. New York: Vintage Books, Random House Publishers 1989.

Klinkowitz, Jerome. "John Gardner's Grendel." John Gardner: Critical Perspectives. Ed. Robert A. Morace and Kathryn Van Spackeren. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1982. 62-67.

Merrill, Robert. "John Gardner's Grendel and the Interpretation of Modern Fables." American Literature 56.2 (1984): 162-180.

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