Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Grendel’s New Gift of Intellect

Luis Rodriguez-Parker
Dr. Adam Johns
Englit 0365 (CRN 11350)
February 22, 2011

Grendel’s New Gift of Intellect

     From the epic poem “Beowulf” to the novel Grendel, the change from a solely mechanical being to that of a highly intellectual and introvert creature: Grendel – while still a wretched and grotesque monstrosity, evolves into something more by Gardner: a monstrous and evil being, but now also a deeply reasoning and intellectual creature. In the Epic poem of Beowulf he is seen as merely nothing more than a symbol of human sin and banishment from “…Cain’s clan, whom the Creator had outlawed and condemned as outcasts.” (Beowulf 106-107) While on the other hand, in Grendel, he seen as something of matter and philosophical, “I understood that the world was nothing: a mechanical chaos of casual, brute enmity on which we stupidly impose our hopes and fears. I understood that, finally and absolutely, I alone exist. All the rest, I saw, is merely what pushes me, or what I push against, blindly –as blindly as all that is not myself pushes back.” (Grendel 21-22) According to French Algerian Author Albert Camus, “An intellectual is someone whose mind watches itself”: And from this, one might draw parallels to the changes of Grendel done by John Gardener. That being said, perhaps in John Gardner’s novel, Grendel, he is attempting to show how the monster is, although still the inglorious monster that we all know and despise today –is able to do something more: More specifically, be able to become conscious of mechanical hatred, able to be highly intellectual, and give himself the opportunity to be a self-aware entity.

     In this case, one can illustrate Gardner’s gift of intellect to Grendel by discussing a theme of mechanical hatred. From preconceived judgment and hatred towards Grendel in the epic poem Beowulf, Gardner turns the tables on the monster to show something else: Intellect, by way of epiphany. For instance, how the Dane’s may have been frightened of the monstrous Grendel in Beowulf for being Cain’s descendant or how the deer in Grendel may have been as equally as scared of him: without knowing anything about him. From these later examples, we will be able to see how Grendel feels as an individual towards this unconscious hatred against his persona and overall existence. In the epic poem, the Danes thought of Grendel as, “Malignant by nature, he never showed remorse.” (Beowulf 137) While in Gardner’s novel, we were able to see the perspective from Grendel’s view and how he felt from these, however true, preconceived notions of him and his thought by way of intellectual insight. For example, when he indeed comes cross that doe in the forest it scurries away. From this, Grendel exclaims, ““Blind Prejudice!” I bawl at the splintered sunlight where half a second ago she stood. I wring my fingers, put on a long face. “Ah, the unfairness of everything,” I say, and shake my head.” (Gardner 7-8) By Gardner giving Grendel this sudden ability to feel, it proves to one through Grendel’s given introvert perspective, that no “delicate distinctions” (Gardner 8) can be formed when someone comes face-to-face with him. This change and helpful addition to Grendel’s character also allows the prejudice understood by Grendel to become understood by us the reader as well.

     However, although it may have been beneficial at first to now have the ability to understand the emotions of Gardner’s modified Grendel and it’s development, this now new intellect also has given a rise to something more threatening – unjust rationalization. For example, from this given intellectual thought process one is now not only capable of thinking for oneself, but also now able to think/justify a reason to others (or himself) why something can or must be done/destroyed. From that point of view, I believe that Grendel’s hatred towards humanity could easily be seen in comparison with many monstrous, yet also highly unjustly reasoning people from even our own recent past: Most notably –Adolf Hitler. Being both monstrous and destructive in like ways, Grendel and Hitler undoubtedly share a blind prejudice towards people not too different from themselves. As Grendel shows great hatred towards the Danes even though they speak the same language, Hitler shows similar views towards specifically the Jewish people, even though they are both obviously human beings. By saying, “… the personification of the devil as the symbol of all evil assumes the living shape of the Jew.” (Adolf Hitler Mein Kampf) he is merely using his false reasoning to adhere to a distorted and destructive idea. Also, although from pure evil, distorted views from both parties are highly able to use reasoning, however in some different ways, they still seem to be able to accomplish what they desire: Death and destruction. With his power in the Nazi Regime, Hitler bombarded the public with anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi propaganda: By using such devices as his book –Mein Kampf. Furthermore, in its unfortunate nature, Hitler was able to use his intellect, however devious and awful it may have been, to kill a larger population of the Jewish people in an awful act –the Holocaust. And although not in the same magnitude, Grendel in turn used his reasoning to question life with its deep and intriguing wonders of the world and by way rationalize, like Hitler, the killing of a part of the human race. From this, I believe that we now can see that it is blatantly obvious and apparent that both Hitler and Grendel, even being monstrous people, are also capable of using reasoning to a sinfully high degree: Murder.

     In addition with Gardner turning Grendel into a highly reasoning monster, capable of rationalizing murder, he also goes to show how Grendel through way of introvert self-awareness is able to discover fear: Be it of others, or more importantly of his own. Delving deeper, one might now be asking, “Why is Grendel afraid of himself?” To answer, perhaps the monstrosity within frightens himself–or rather frightens the fact that he indeed possesses human qualities: Distinctively, Self-awareness. From his roars in the very beginning to the roars throughout the rest of the novel, Grendel seems to always be catching himself off guard: Taken back by the evil lurking inside his soul. For example, ““Dark Chasms!” I scream from the cliff-edge, “seize me!” Seize me to your foul black bowels and crush my bones!” I am terrified at the sound of my own huge voice in the darkness. I stand there shaking from head to foot, moved to the depths of my being….” (Grendel 10) From this, Gardner’s addition of intellect to the monstrous creature has now given Grendel the ability to consciously confess his self-fear in order that, maybe in turn, a deeper reason has been proposed: He has unconsciously realized the fear that he instills in other life forms, but perhaps more notably – in humanity. I believe that the purpose of Gardner’s choice to make Grendel become self-aware has made Grendel mature into a more observant, yet still monstrous, being; one could always find Grendel listening, watching, and learning of humanity throughout the book. From behind trees to the edges of cliffs, his notable ability of “wakefulness”, given by Gardner, now fascinates him and makes him become curious of his external and internal surrounds. This development has immediately allowed him to learn not only more about humanity, but also about himself.

     By and large, Grendel comprehends mechanical hatred, becomes able to use intellect, and grows to be a self-aware entity: Given these newly changed characteristics by John W. Gardener, this has offered much more than anything else the epic poem of “Beowulf” could have possibly done to this character. Grendel was in need of this development, this change, in order to show a different perspective between two different writings: “Beowulf” and Grendel. With a somewhat warped gratitude to his gruesome intellectual reasoning and nature, like that of Hitler, I believe that in order to fully understand human values and perhaps further enticement to the meaning behind other things: Like that of “Beowulf”. Gardner’s change of Grendel to an intellectual was required so that us the reader are now able to conceptualize and understand fully monstrous values in a closer more relatable way –and maybe, being one in the same, our own human values. “The supreme function of reason is to show man that some things are beyond reason” –Blaise Pascal

Works Cited
Gardner, John. Grendel. New York: Vintage Book’s Edition, 1989.
Hitler, Adolf. Mein Kampf, New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1939
Heaney, Seamus. Trans. Beowulf: A New Verse Translation. New York: Farrar, Straus, and
     Giroux, 2000.
ThinkExist.com Quotations. “Blaise Pascal quotes”. ThinkExist.com Quotations
     Online 1 Jan. 2011. 22 Feb. 2011
ThinkExist.com Quotations. “Albert Camus quotes”. ThinkExist.com Quotations
     Online 1 Jan. 2011. 22 Feb. 2011

1 comment:

  1. Your writing can be either fantastically or problematically dense. There's a lot going on in the intro, for instance. Your use of Camus is a fantastic opportunity, but will you actually use it? There's a risk here of trying to do too much, and losing focus.

    You contrast G's malignancy and lack of regret in the poem to his intellectual introversion in the 2nd paragraph. Are these thing really antonyms? Is it impossible to imagine a malignant, regret-less intellectual?

    I don't follow your argument re: Hitler. It's not clear to me that Grendel is prejudiced, for instance, although he sees himself as the *object* of the prejudice of others. A reading of Hitler-as-introspective intellectual could help this to make sense (though I'd propose that, say, Stalin, would be a much better candidate for this role).

    Your discussion of Grendel's awareness of his monstrosity is interesting in itself; it fits a little awkwardly within the essay, though. I'm not sure how it relates to the whole Hitler thing, for instance.

    Short version: I think understanding Grendel as an intellectual has great merit, and that Camus gives you a reasonable approach there. While I'm suspicious of Hitler analogies in general, certainly it's reasonable to relate Grendel to one of the various 20th century threads of murderous intellectualism. But to get this argument right, you need to focus on it, and work through the details - this is especially important given the role played by Hrothwulf and his peasant friend (red something) in the novel. Your analysis of Grendel's self-awareness was pretty good, but also isolated. You have good, serious ideas, but the execution of those ideas is rough and scattered here - this reads like a very rough draft, not a final one, despite all its potential.