Moral Relativism vs. Moral Absolutes
Paul Sartre’s atheistic existentialism divides the world into 2 groups, authentic and inauthentic. Authentic people are distinguished by their deliberate choices to use their freedom to find purpose and meaning in their existence, while inauthentic people are characterized by passivity. John Gardner disagrees with moral relativism evidenced in Sartre’s existentialism and chooses to believe in moral absolutes. He portrays Grendel in his book Grendel as a condemnation of the moral relativism expressed by Jean Paul Sartre’s ideas of atheistic existentialism. Through Grendel's experiences with contrasting religions and his philosophical mentors, Grendel chooses to embody Sartre’s idea of authenticity by terrorizing the people around him.
Through Grendel’s initial attraction with the Shaper, a scop and a symbol of the Old Testament, Gardner shows how Grendel is able acknowledge moral absolutes like music. The Shaper’s stories and music fascinate Grendel. He deeply moves Grendel and through his songs, even manages to convince Grendel that he is a monster shunned by god and a descendant from Cain. “I believed him. Such was the power of the Shaper’s harp! Stood wriggling my face, letting tears down my nose, grinding my fists into my streaming eyes, even though to do it I had to squeeze with my elbow the corpse of the proof that both of us were cursed” (Grendel 51). Grendel knows that the Shaper tells lies, but the Shaper’s beautiful music and persuasive voice convinces Grendel that he is a terrible race cursed by God. Grendel believes the Shaper’s portrayal of his purpose is wrong and becomes overwhelmed. He runs to the humans in hope of communicating with them. “I sank to my knees, crying, “Friend! Friend!” They hacked at me, yipping like dogs” (52). All Grendel wants is to be accepted and find purpose to guide his life. So when the humans reject him, he chooses to ignore what the Shaper says about him. Gardner uses the...
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