The class blog for a section of Literature and the Contemporary, a literature and writing class offered at the University of Pittsburgh.
I found the story Grendel to be very sympathetic so far. It seems that if he was just shown a little compassion that he might have been able to be not the monster that he came to be. I also felt a little empathetic towards Grendel. It seems that all he is is lonely and that with the earlier point that if we was just treated humanely and with respect and interest that he would be less volitile. If I had to live his life and my only source of companionship was a scrubby mother who I at most times despise, I would be a little cranky too.
The impression one gets of Grendel from reading Beowulf is obviously a negative one. There isn’t much analysis in this text of Grendel’s character. He just appears to be an embodiment of evil with purely evil motivations. Grendel, by John Gardner takes an in-depth look at the character of Grendel. In fact Grendel narrates the story in the first person. Rather than the purely evil entity bent on destroying Scylding we see a near-human creature with sympathetic human characteristics. We feel sorry for Grendel when he experiences solitude and loneliness; solitude he which he internalizes and leads him to proclaim himself as separate from human beings and no different than a machine or the rams in heat. It is this loneliness which allows the reader to sympathize with Grendel when he embraces many of these instincts.
The distinction between the two sides of Grendel is clear between Beowulf and Grendel. I am not sure I appreciate humanizing Grendel because he is such a terrible monster, however it is very interesting since--stemming from Cain--Grendel should very well be just as human as we are.I also think it rather curious that in humanizing him Grendel doesnt always scare the creatures that he sees, which seems out of character within the Beowulf context. He has a lot of wisdom, gloomily so, especially philosophical. On 28 and 29 when he realizes for the first time that life is "pointless accident" it even gives him a little more repsect than a normal human being, he has a wisdom beyond his years (granted he is also very very old) but nonetheless it gives Grendel an entirely new perspective...He has become immortal in that instant I believe, because he has that wisdom of the ages. Sure we humans can realize such a thing, but we let it go and continue to live, he lets it become one with his own everyday thought process. The story about Hrothgar was interesting because we had only previously been on the other side. It doesn't exactly change my opinion on him, but definately gives him more depth. I still however do not understand the Harper's song or what Grendel meant by "the truth" of it.
As I read Grendel, I became to realize that humans are not always the good ones like we try to portray ourselves. I even felt sorry in a way that I thought of Grendel as just an antagonist. As he went through turmoil and confusion in his childhood, I could really feel the presence of loneliness and a sense of abandonment, especially when he said, “I understood that, finally and absolutely, I alone exist. “In my opinion, no one is born to be an evil. Everyone has a reason behind why they turned so cruel. Somewhere, at some point in their life, they got hurt by certain people or went through a tragic event that made them to turn mischievous. Grendel, in this case, had no one to talk to and be friends with and human’s prejudice transformed him to become a sinner. Lacking a company in your life that can share the commonalities is a tragic thing. Why couldn’t the humans be more acceptable towards Grendel? Does fear the only reason why we could not reach out to Grendel? Can we really say that we’re better than Grendel when we were the ones that quickly judged him as our enemy when he was just trying to talk to us?
Grendel's View Machinery – a word Grendel uses in introspection to make sense of the world. He seems to see almost everything in the world so far as mechanical and mindless, as nothing more than pointless behavioral patterns. From the ram that he sees in the opening scene to the bull he faces while lodged in the tree, he is at first frustrated with those and himself as being “…as mechanical as anything else…” (9) Later on, these ideas of machinery only seem to add to Grendel’s fascination/anger to humankind. This being so because I believe that, unlike others, the owl, the wolves, the bull, and even the stars in the sky, humans are able to step away from the instinctive patterns of everything else and change; they can form new tactics and aren’t controlled by any outside forces. That being said, Is Grendel, although unwillingly lured out by instinct to start killing, perhaps capable/willing to become somthing more than mechanical?
I found the humanizing of Grendel to be very strange, given the fact that he is such an inhumane character. The part that really struck me was early in the story starting on page 18, when Grendel stays out too late, gets stuck between tree trunks, is mauled repeatedly by an angry bull, and is nearly killed by a band of men lead by Hrothgar until his mother arrives to save him. I think any evil character in fantasy has to go through some sort of scaring experience, such as Voldemort losing his body in Harry Potter or Darth Vader burning in lava in Star Wars,to sort of cement their loss of humanity, where they taste death and want to deliver it to others. This may have been Grendel's moment in that tradition.
Grendel has been a very interesting read. The twist that Gardner puts to the story of Grendel and Hrothgar shows there really are two sides to every story. In the book Grendel, Grendel is actually afraid of himself. He is afraid of the dragon he meets and a snake he touches by accident. In the poem Beowulf, however, he is made out to be a blood-thirsty murderer who is mean and cares for nothing. Grendel even says when thinking about hurting people that "It was one thing to eat one from time to time-that was only natural: kept them from overpopulating, maybe starving to death, come winter-but it was another thing to scare them, give them heart attacks, fill their nights with nightmares, just for sport" (60-61). This shows Grendel actually has some intelligence and some sort of a conscience. Gardner's version of Grendel is intriguing and I am anxious to see how Grendel tells his views on the Danes newest visitor, Beowulf.