Grendel is not Necessarily a Monster
The epic poem Beowulf portrays a story about a hero, Beowulf, fighting several monsters, including Grendel and his mother, and a dragon that eventually kills him. Grendel, a novel written by John Gardner, describes situations which led Grendel to become who he is in Beowulf and helps readers understand the motives behind his behaviours. Some might argue that the monster is Grendel, however, after reading both texts, I argue that Grendel is not necessarily a monster, instead, humans are the real monster in the texts.
Looking back at the text, especially from Beowulf, Grendel, however, did qualify as being a monster. Beowulf portrays Grendel as someone who is violent and brutal, who kills and slaughters everyone he has encountered. Grendel lives in the land of the Spear-Danes and attacks King Hrothgar’s land every evening and scares people. Beowulf, after hearing the story of Grendel, decides to help Hrothgar to fight and eliminate this problem. Though being powerful and takes numbers of people’s lives, Grendel is still being captured by Beowulf, the great hero in the poem. Several quotes from Beowulf describes the violence of Grendel:
How it works
Nor did the creature keep him waiting
but struck suddenly and started in;
he grabbed and mauled a man on his bench,
bit into his bone-lappings, bolted down his blood
and gorged on him in lumps, leaving the body
utterly lifeless, eaten up
hand and foot. (738-744)
From this quote, we could know that Grendel is a cannibal. (If we assume he is a human-like creature) His murders are often associated with consuming his victims and turning their flesh into his own. No one could do such a thing unless he is a monster and no one is sympathetic for him when he is caught and killed by Beowulf. It is reasonable to conclude that Grendel is defined as a monster.
However, through Grendel’s perspective, as John Gardner writes in his book Grendel, his actions are one consequence, moreover, the reflection of human actions. John Gardner’s book provides readers with the motivation and incentives behind Grendel’s violent actions in Beowulf. Throughout the novel Grendel, Grendel sees how people behave and he keeps a record of the behaviours. We could infer from texts that Grendel has some relationship with humans, and Grendel’s ancestries even have their language. But they stopped to speak their language, which then makes Grendel incapable of speaking. Rather than becoming close to humans, Grendel has become more and more distant from humans: humans do not consider Grendel as a human. Grendel, on the other hand, tries to interact with people, but he fails every single time.
And then he cries: “Why can’t I have someone to talk to?” Grendel is lonely because he is not quite human, and he is also too sensitive and thoughtful for being a cave dweller or any other creatures. Grendel’s isolation seems inexplicable until he hears the Shaper. The Shaper told Grendel that his ancestors split the world between darkness and light and Grendel belongs to the dark side, which is a terrible race that God cursed. Therefore we could find a reason why Grendel is doomed to be lonely: he had a wicked ancestor. Gardner writes that Grendel is able to think, feel, and reason. Since the Shaper has told Grendel that he is doomed to be a villain, Grendel feels he has to be bad. This explains the reasons for all the destructions Grendel has done in Beowulf. Grendel may eat people, but he is also a victim of the human. He constantly suffers loneliness and the burden of being hated. And the way he reacts to these is being violent and destructive.
If we take a closer look at the great hero Beowulf, we might find some disturbing facts about him that makes him indifferent than Grendel. Beowulf, just like Grendel, is somewhat isolated. He arrives Denmark as a foreigner without permission. He is raised by his uncle when his father is banished for feuding with others. Just like Grendel, Beowulf likes to fight barehanded, even though the monsters he is facing seems much stronger than him. Grendel’s actions are the response to prolonged isolation, but Beowulf’s response to losses is more disturbing. When Beowulf is speaking to King Hrothgar, he says: It is always better to avenge dear ones than to indulge in mourning. We can not see a clear difference between Beowulf and Grendel’s mother since both of their reaction to losses are to revenge. And even when Beowulf is about to die in the fight with the Dragon, he still thinks about the treasures he has gained from the fight instead of doing something else memorable.
Certainly, if we only look at Beowulf alone, Grendel is definitely a monster. But if we take a look of Beowulf and Grendel together, we might consider humans, in both books, are the real monster.