Grendel is not Necessarily a Monster

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Updated: Apr 30, 2024
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Grendel is not Necessarily a Monster

This essay will delve into the character of Grendel in the epic poem “Beowulf,” examining whether he can be solely defined as a monster. It will explore Grendel’s origins, actions, and the motivations behind his attacks. The piece will discuss the complexity of Grendel’s character, considering perspectives that view him as a symbol of evil and those that suggest he is a misunderstood being. You can also find more related free essay samples at PapersOwl about Beowulf.

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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 by John Gardner, describes situations that led Grendel to become who he is in Beowulf and helps readers understand the motives behind his behaviors. 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 monsters in the texts.

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Looking back at the text, especially from Beowulf, Grendel, however, did qualify as being a monster. Beowulf portrays Grendel as someone violent and brutal who kills and slaughters everyone he encounters (1). Grendel lives in the land of the Spear-Danes and attacks King Hrothgar’s land every evening and scares people. After hearing Grendel’s story, Beowulf decides to help Hrothgar fight and eliminate this problem. Though powerful and takes many people’s lives, Grendel is still being captured by Beowulf, the great hero in the poem. Several quotes from Beowulf describe the violence of Grendel:

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-lapping, bolted down his blood

and gorged on him in lumps, leaving the body

utterly lifeless, eaten up

hand and foot. (1, p738-744)

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 to 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, 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 behaviors (1). We could infer from texts that Grendel has some relationship with humans, and Grendel’s ancestries even have their language. But they stopped speaking their language, making 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 one of their own. On the other hand, Grendel tries to interact with people but 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 too sensitive and thoughtful to be a cave dweller or any other creature. Grendel’s isolation seems inexplicable until he hears the Shaper. The Shaper tells Grendel that his ancestors split the world between darkness and light, and Grendel belongs to the dark side, a terrible race that God cursed. Therefore, we can find a reason why Grendel is doomed to be lonely: he had a wicked ancestor. Gardner writes that Grendel can think, feel, and reason. Since the Shaper has told Grendel that he is doomed to be a villain, Grendel feels he is doomed to be bad. It explains the reasons for all the destructions Grendel has done in Beowulf. Grendel may eat people, but he is also a victim of humans. He constantly suffers loneliness and the burden of being hated. And the way he reacts to these is by being violent and destructive.

If we take a closer look at the great hero Beowulf, we might find some disturbing facts about him that make him indifferent to Grendel. Beowulf, just like Grendel, is somewhat isolated. He arrives in Denmark as a foreigner without permission. He is raised by his uncle when his father is banished for feuding with others. Like Grendel, Beowulf likes to fight barehanded, even though the monsters he is facing seem much stronger than him. Grendel’s actions respond to prolonged isolation, but Beowulf’s response to losses is more disturbing. When Beowulf speaks to King Hrothgar, he says: It is always better to avenge dear ones than to indulge in mourning. We cannot 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 gained from the fight instead of doing something memorable.

Certainly, if we only look at Beowulf alone, Grendel is a monster. But if we look at Beowulf and Grendel together, we might consider humans, in both books, the real monsters.


  1. Heaney S. Beowulf [Internet]. Google Books. Faber & Faber; 2009 [cited 2022 Oct 21]. Available from:
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Grendel Is Not Necessarily A Monster. (2019, Jul 29). Retrieved from