John Gardners Grendel provides us with an in-depth look at the personality and mindset of a monster known to be an antagonist to mankind. The reader is seeing the world through the eyes of Grendel, giving the reader the feeling of having a very close relationship with him. Through this close relationship that the reader creates with Grendel, it becomes evident that Grendel undergoes a personality change throughout the novel. Grendel’s development throughout the novel is highly influenced by his communication with the humans and other major characters throughout the book.
The first human to have a major influence on Grendel was the Shaper, a blind man who preaches to those around him. The first mention of the Shaper was in chapter one, when Grendel attacked Hrothgar’s meadhall. During Grendel’s attack, we witness the flaws of human instinct. Instead of running away at the sight of a horrid monster, the citizens become frozen in terror like a dear in headlights. The only exception to these humans was the Shaper, who acted quickly and despite his blindness, was able to escape the building and run away from the danger. Grendel had admired the Shaper for being different from the other humans, and reacting properly and quickly, as well as for possessing knowledge Grendel wished he could have himself. Grendel’s envy for a mind like the Shaper causes him to fill with jealousy, and subconsciously tries to mirror the ideology of the Shaper despite not being a human. The Shaper’s songs teach Grendel about the way that the humans live and function. To Grendel, it appears that everyone around loves and respects the Shaper, causing Grendel to wish that he could be like the Shaper even more, so that he can finally lose the feeling of isolation and gain acceptance among the humans. As Grendel analyzes the popularity and appeal of the Shaper, he begins to realize why people have are always running away at his sight. Grendel dives deep into himself to get a sense of the flaws in his own character, and subconsciously decided that he doesn’t really need nor care about getting the approval of the humans because he isn’t a human and shouldn’t have to live by the expectations and standards that they have for themselves. He was born not as a human, but as a monster who would never be able to live like the humans, and instead must follow his own role in society: to terrorize and kill the humans.
Although it was evident that Grendel cared for his mother, it was evident that their relationship wasn’t always perfect. She was very controlling, and attempts to keep Grendel at her side throughout the novel, but when she loved him and was even considered a source of comfort to him. In chapter two of the novel, Grendel views his mother as a fat and lazy brute who is to unintelligent to able to speak the same language as the humans. As the mother tries to become more protective and sheltering of Grendel, he tries to break away from her more and treats her as truly a monster or animal instead of an equivalent to himself. He realizes that she is exactly what he wants to avoid becoming, so he begins to spend less time with her and instead spend more time with the humans, which starts to make him become more like a human than a monster. Grendel became more independent as he looked less to his mother for advice and began to think for himself, using his own thoughts and observations as a guideline. He starts to develop philosophical thoughts, and begins to question the meaning and purpose of life. At the points in the novel where Grendel is leaving or returning to the cave, his mind becomes restless with thoughts about the humans and what he should. The complexity of Grendel’s thoughts is synonymous with the complex design of the cave itself. Getting in and out of the cave requires one to pass through an underwater passage and through the wall of the cave. The water is used as a symbol of the subconscious and emotion, which explains the thoughts that start to jump around in Grendel’s head as he is on his way in or out of his cave. Grendel’s thinking to himself is key to his development as an independent individual. Instead of relying on the advice and opinions of others, Grendel tries to sort everything out within his own thoughts, causing him to become less and less dependent on other characters, which in turn allows him to become more of an individual.
The dragon makes his first appearance in chapter five of the novel. Prior to meeting the dragon, the only being that Grendel ever met more powerful than himself was his mother. Grendel became so terrified at the site of the monstrous dragon that he could barely even speak. Grendel has never really felt this level of fear, and it makes him realize that there are more fearsome creatures to walk the planet than him. This fear also rationalizes the feeling of the terror the human’s exhibit when encountering Grendel, so he now understands their fear of him. The dragon proves to be an incredibly smart philosopher, and when the dragon starts reading his mind, Grendel becomes even more afraid of him. He never felt fear like when he saw the dragon, so he didn’t understand why the humans would run away in terror even if he were to do nothing wrong. He tells Grendel that his role in life is to ‘frustrate all established order’, by basically terrorizing the humans. The dragon proceeds to tell him that being terror to all humans that is actually important to their development. He goes on to explain that humans are constantly trying to destroy anything they consider to be evil, but evil is actually very important to them because without evil, the world would not be balanced. The dragon tries to explain to Grendel that he is the reason humans create science, art, poetry and religion, so he is actually very important, and without him, mankind would not be advanced as it is today. This confrontation with the dragon allows Grendel to rid himself of the doubts he had about the morality of killing humans, finally providing him with the reason and conformation he desired to continue with his role in society.
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Grendel has become one of the most important and developed characters throughout the history of literature, despite him being an antagonist. His thoughts often conflict with each other, but by the end of the novel, they become very deep and complex. After his confrontation with dragon, Grendel finally develops an understanding of his role in society, and the importance that he plays. In the novel, Grendel was portrayed as being an unintelligent monster, isolated from the humans, having no understanding of his role and importance to society, but by the end of the book, Grendel has developed into a sophisticated being with a greater understanding of the world than the humans even have.
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