Thursday, February 10, 2011

Prompt 2

Beowulf, an epic poem translated by Seamus Heaney, has little psychological depth compared to its spin-off, Grendel. John Gardner deepens the psychological aspects of the Beowulf story by creating thought and dialogue for its famous creature. In doing so many topics such as the purpose of life and reasons for living, as well as perspective differences are brought to light. Gardner than furthers these claims made by Grendel’s thought and speech by the dialogue he holds with the Dragon.

In Beowulf readers are under the assumption that Grendel and the Dragon never had met; each of the creatures was of a different land separated by a vast ocean. Neither of the creatures had made any effort to talk or communicate (outside of direct physical confrontation) with the human characters, let alone at all in any point in time within the epic. However in Grendel Gardner places the two creatures in dialogue not only briefly, but holding intensely intricate conversations.

Contrasting having absolutely no dialogue with humans in Beowulf, Grendel embarks on establishing a connection with the humans when he first hears the harper tell the tale of two splitting brothers. This tale enlicits a “Waaa!” from Grendel (51). When he finds the response distasteful, he yearns for a companion to speak with: “‘why can’t I have someone to talk to?’ [he] said. The stars said nothing, but [he] pretend to ignore the rudeness” (53). In the following chapter Grendel then meets Dragon. Gardner purposefully places the Dragon within the conversing level of Grendel to illuminate further areas for Grendel to analyze. In deepening the questioning mind of Grendel, audiences are introduced to the concepts of mortality and even humanity.

Dragon proceeds to explain to Grendel that which Grendel could not have known, nor acted upon previously. His words, I predict, catalyst the murders of Grendel that otherwise had no reason to begin. In the beginning Grendel is introduced as a lost and confused creature, more to be pitied than feared. Through speeking with Dragon, Grendel was enlightened and even challenged. At the end of their conversation on 74 when Grendel tries to convince Dragon of the Shaper’s words, he begins to realize the folly: “In some way that I couldn’t explain, I knew that his scorn of my childish credulity was right.”

In addition to this realization Dragon is able to share his own perceptions of the human world, both in human terms and in dragon terms. Readers begin to establish hesitancy towards Grendel because we see the differentiation between the talk we can recognize and understand, and the talk that Grendel understands. In talking about the harpist, Dragon states, “He knows no more than they do about total reality—less if anything?: works with the same old clutter of atoms, the givens of his time and place and tongue. But he spins it all together with harp and runs and hoots, and they think what they think is alike. Think Heaven loves them (65). Alone in this one statement we humans can understand the confusion of understanding earth, of living and surviving, of believing in Christian beliefs, and of listening to someone spin the web of hope for us. Grendel could never hold knowledge such as this, and Gardner could not have placed such ideals in his head without disrupting this character. Most of Dragon’s speech is the same in relation to human ideals on Grendel terms. Gardner is now allowing Grendel the knowledge his audience can relate to in order to humanize Grendel even further.

Grendel had begun his journey of humanization from the first pages when he has thought, and then later when he has speech similar to humans. This new knowledge can put him within grasp of human understanding so that his next choices reflect human interests as well. No longer will he have any traces of the gruesome monster that tore through the village in Beowulf, but through this humanization, Grendel has become the misunderstood creature that may have followed different paths. This can then be even taken a step further and in the implicit blame on human society has just become explicit. Humans were the ones that caused Grendel to be this terrible murderer towards them, so then are we the more terrible creatures?


  1. My first comment is that you avoided a very common pitfall, to generalize too much about Beowulf and then write only about *Grendel*, without really establishing a firm basis for your beliefs about *Beowulf*. You avoid that problem by being very focused on one actual change (not very general, generic changes) - the changed/developed relationship between Grendel and the dragon.

    This is very good, and everything you do with it is good. I will note, however, that you don't push yourself as hard as you might have to draw *conclusions* from this discussion. I think the material is mostly there, but the structure and hence conclusions could be more clear: "Because of the highly develoepd relationship between Grendel and the Dragon, we can conclude x", where X is probably something about Grendel's humanizaiton. Instead of writing *around* the topic, you could be presenting this, from the beginning, as an argument about how Grendel becomes humanized through his developed relationship with the Dragon.

  2. This is really good Katie. I had never thought about the connection between Grendel and the Dragon not being present in Beowulf, and its an interesting topic. The only thing I would try to add is maybe at the end draw some kind of parallel in our society regarding negative self fulfilling prophecies and society's failures in dealing with people who are different. Maybe also analyze the morality of the Dragon and what he might be symbolizing as the one who plants these ideas in Grendel's head, which leads to an outpouring of violence.

  3. I believe that this is a very effective paper. I think that Adam is right in saying that in order to make it better you should write more about the outcome of the meeting between Grendel and the Dragon. When Grendel meets with the dragon he is in a very confusing state of thought. he has heard the stories of the future being told in the great hall and he is torn between the decision to possibly fulfill his destiny and become the villain in the story. He does realized by talking to the dragon that he must do this in order for the stories to become reality. The dragon sort of guides him in the right direction without influencing him outwardly. I believe hat if you draw the conclusion that Grendel's future actions were determined through his discussion with the dragon then you will have a much more effective arguement.