The class blog for a section of Literature and the Contemporary, a literature and writing class offered at the University of Pittsburgh.
Was Grendel a homosexual? It might have just been me, but at some points in the story I found myself seriously asking that question. Now, such a statement needs to thoroughly backed up so as to not make the person who asked the question seem as...I'm unsure of the politically correct term...but as a moron.Point 1: When Grendel is attacking Herot and actually goes into the bedchamber of Wealtheow (after looking in at the king and her in bed doing what I'm sure adults do at night) and he goes to kill her and then decides against it and then leaves. He states that "I'd cured myself. That much, at least, I could say for my behavior. I concentrated on the memory of the ugliness between her legs (Page 110)". Now I'm not saying that homosexuals go out and behave in this manner. That kind of a thing is really left to sociopathic, misogynistic serial killers. The point that I brought from that which first make me think about this, is that he describes Wealtheow's female anatomy as 'ugly'. Whether that's more to do with them being different species or personal preference that's another matter, although based on point 2, I tend to lean slightly more toward the latter.Point 2: The part of the story which really drove in the point was when Beowulf had come to the shore to help Hrothgar and the way that Grendel describes him. "His chest was as wide as an oven. His arms were like beams....Staring at his grotesquely muscled shoulders--stooped, naked despite the cold, sleek as the belly of a shark and as rippled with power as the shoulders of a horse--I found my mind wandering. If I let myself, I could drop into a trance just looking at those shoulders. He was dangerous. And yet I was excited, suddenly alive. He talked on. I found myself not listening, merely looking at his mouth (Page 155)." Ok. So not a whole lot needs to be really said, one can just read the paragraph. But what I found interesting is that Wealtheow was considered ugly and Beowulf was considered by Grendel to be quite a good-looking, enticing, captivating man. It might just be me, but I seem to think that he has a preference.
I found several things in this week's reading to be interesting. The addition of the scene where Unferth visits Grendel's cave changed my perception of him that I had developed from reading Beowulf. Instead of a cynical coward like he was in the poem, Unferth is a cynical try-hard in this novel. I also found it interesting that Beowulf's name was never mentioned in the novel. When he first came to shore, Grendel viewed him as an anomaly. He was also strangely drawn in to "the stranger". And it was this same fascination that lead him to his death. Beowulf's transformation into the dragon was strange at first until I realized the significance. The dragon was the 1st individual that Grendel was able to communicate fully with. Beowulf served as the second. Both told Grendel the events that were to happen in the future, with and without Grendel.
For me, the most interesting part of reading the end of Grendel was the depiction Gardner does of Unferth. Adding the scene where Unferth pursues Grendel gives Unferth’s character more layers, making him more than just the sullen disposed favorite of the king when Beowulf arrives. What Unferth did by pursuing Grendel probably surprised the monster. I think this is the reason he lets Unferth live, though Grendel would never admit that. He sees an actual hero, not just another man deluded by the lies the Shaper tells the Danes every night. Unferth is very noble in this scene, attempting to teach Grendel something about the humanity that he is destroying every night. From what Unferth says, the reader sees him as a worthy hero. He acknowledges the real meaning of a hero first saying, “You talk of heroism as noble language, dignity. It’s more than that, as my coming here has proved. No man above us will ever know whether Unferth died here or fled to the hills like a coward.” (Gardner 88) Unferth plays the part of understanding Grendel in this scene, which I think is very important to the scheme of the novel. Grendel was written to shed light on this evil character of an epic poem but even his rationalizations sometimes do not make sense. I think that I finally understood Grendel a little better when I read him interacting with Unferth. I also want to point out a quote by Unferth that really resonates with both Grendel and Beowulf. As Grendel is getting annoyed by Unferth and his use of “hero” Unferth says, “Go ahead, scoff, except in the life of a hero, the whole world’s meaningless. The hero sees values beyond what’s possible. That’s the nature of a hero. It kills him, of course, ultimately. But it makes the whole struggle of humanity worthwhile.” (Gardner 89) This quote seems to make Grendel want to save Unferth. As easy as it would have been to just kill him, Grendel makes it a point to let Unferth live. Whether it is to torture the self-proclaimed hero or because he actually likes him, Grendel does something that it close to humanity. I would argue that this quote is one of the most important quotes in all of Grendel and Beowulf because it really gives us an understanding of heroes and why they do what they do.
Though Grendel I definitely have gained a new respect for Unferth and less admiration for Beowulf. Many small changes in the novel have also attributed to new perspectives of Hrothgar and Wealhtheow. It is interesting to see these second sides, which seem to contrast (or maybe just elaborate in a way I had not previously understood) with the character's parts in Beowulf.Secondly it is very interesting that poems are included in the later parts (ex:dream on 124) As for the "Cut A" "Cut B" and then the "Scenes.." it is interesting to see this new thought process of Grendel which, one could argue, illustrates his loss of sanity. It is this moment in which he just exemplifies a madman talking to himself. He only realizes this I believe in the final scene, and it is surprising this madness comes in the form of the dragon, and as we had said in class, would strengthen the argument that the dragon is merely imagination. As for Brandi's point about the homosexuality, I would never had seen this perspective. I would disagree with it only because the reasoning he places behind looking at Beowulf's mouth, it terrifies him, as the sixth sense of knowing of their landing. And he was excited to fight for a break up of the boredom of which he views his life, not for a sexual pleasure. As for Wealhtheow, I would argue he views it ugly because of the procreation attached to it, however this idea is contradicted when he states he doesnt wish to destroy everyone (158). With more proof one way or another though, this could be interesting to delve into.
I thought the second portion of this book was very interesting because we got insight into characters that were not so intensely talked about in Beowulf. For example, Unferth is brought to life in Grendel in a way that was not shown in Beowulf. Unferth has a heart and courage in Grendel that is the opposite of how it is in Beowulf. Also, the story of Wealtheow is brought to light and how she met Hrothgar and so on is showed in Grendel, which was not touched upon in Beowulf. I did not fully understand that portion of the book where the priests come in and Grendel talks to one. I saw no reason for it and was not completely sure why it was added to this story.I also found it interesting that Beowulf's name is never mentioned in the book. It's quite bizarre that he mentions almost everyone elses name that he comes in contact with, besides Beowulf. He also talks to Beowulf and has conversations with him when he is fighting with him. That part was interesting to read because Beowulf embarrasses him and we do not see that in the poem Beowulf.
I really wanted to think of Grendel as a protagonist, at least in this book, but it was hard to maintain that mindset when he showed his natural evil in him. His villainous instinct was revealed evidently when he said, "I am mad with joy... Strangers have come, and it's a whole new game...I stirred, baffled by the strange sensation, squinting into dark corners to learn the cause"(151). Just the fact that he feels joyful even thinking about killing newcomers, I think, is an obvious sign that Grendel is a born villain. However, the reason why I wanted to think of him as a "good guy" was because there were so many instants in the book where it was evident that he could feel all the positive emotions such as beauty, charm, happy, joy, and hope. Just the fact that he is aware of these emotions shows that he can feel them too. The point where I really wanted to believe that Grendel is actually a good character was when Helmings offered his sister Wealtheow to Hrothgar as a "holy servant of common good"(100), and Grendel says, " she was beautiful and she surrendered herself with the dignity of a sacrificial virgin. My chest was full of pain, my eyes smarted, and I was afraid... I was afraid I was about to sob... She was beautiful, as innocent as dawn on winter hills" (100). Describing a young, innocent Wealtheow beautiful and comparing her to dawn on winter hills shows that Grendel, in fact, is very soft-minded, and sympathetic, which are characteristics that villains cannot have. Also, I think the description of Wealtheow that is stated above opposes Brandi's view of Grendel being a homosexual, because if Grendel was truly attracted to men, he would not have described Wealtheow as beautiful.
In chapter 12, I found the imagery of Beowulf’s last final words to Grendel to be quite meaningful. Two main points were brought to my attention from this passage: Perception and mechanics. As Grendel Begins to perceive the illusion of Beowulf’s Dragon-like nature, he becomes also taunted by Beowulf’s seemingly similar outlook of “…time-as-coffin…” (Grendel 170) and therefore – mechanical. Drawing a parallel between the novel Grendel and the novel Slaughter House Five, I believe that a similar set of patterns and beliefs about time may be in coherence with each: For example, Beowulf whispers, “A meaningless swirl in the stream of time, a temporary gathering of bits, a few random specks, a cloud . . . Complexities…” (Grendel 170) Comparatively, in Slaughterhouse Five, a group of aliens called the Tralfamadorians’ seem to also be viewing time as mechanical as anything: “… There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects.” (Slaughterhouse Five) I believe that Grendel, like the humans in Slaughterhouse Five, are unable to see time as “…an image of life that is beautiful and surprising and deep” (Slaughterhouse Five) like the Tralfamadorians': Therefore, I believe Grendel must be stuck in the meaningless bits of time: The endless mechanical cycle.
With finishing up Grendel, I have found that reading it from Grendel's perspective seems to change the perspective of the characters in a different way compared to Beowulf. Or the characters are conveyed differently through the image that Grendel sees them. And I feel like the end of the book seemed to rap up pretty quickly as Grendel's death seemed to be rushed compared to how the rest of the novel was told.I found the passage about Unferth pretty interesting. Gardner doesn't portray Unferth as the hero he was in Beowulf. As Grendel destroys the trappings of heroism, Unferth later returns to argue for a deeper understanding of heroism. According to Unferth, the attraction of heroism is not in the fame it ensures or the poetry that it can inspire. Unferth believes in heroism, because it gives him something greater for which to strive. Unferth encounters the same problem Grendel does a vision of the world as essentially meaningless.
One of the things I found most intriguing was in chapter 12, where Grendel contemplates whether or not to challenge Beowulf, and then describes the nature of his war on Hrothgar. All throughout the novel, Grendel bemoans the mechanical nature of everything around him, and begins to discover an identity as he develops a connection with the humans and the Dragon. As his fascination with killing and wrecking havoc expands, Grendel gradually becomes more and more mechanical. Two major examples of this stand out to me. First is when he sees Beowulf, saying, "But I was less sure of myself than I pretended...He was dangerous"(Gardner 155). Here, Grendel clearly comprehends the magnitude of Beowulf's power, and instinctively knows he could lose, yet presses on anyway, as he has become addicted to the rush of causing misery to the humans who have cast him aside. The other example of Grendel's increasing mechanization is when he talks about the way he chooses to conduct his conflict with Hrothgar. He is clearly stronger than even Unferth, Hrothgar's most powerful warrior, and could destroy the kingdom if he wanted. Yet instead, he chose to simply torture it for entertainment. So instead of fighting the battle based on some measure of principle, Grendel merely toys with Hrothgar, like a cat with a mouse. He does this not out of desire, which he specifically attempts to limit, but out of fear of boredom. He was becoming utterly dependent on the Danes for entertainemnt, and his actions are dictated by this, making him what he despises--mechanical