Grendel, a Nihilist or Existentialist?

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Throughout the novel Grendel by John Gardner, the monster Grendel has many different encounters that change his view on the world, but it becomes unequivocally clear that his true way of life is through nihilism. Grendel starts out in life as a nihilist where everything is meaningless to him. However, he longs for meaning. His only dilemma is within himself because he cannot see how an animal like him has any true purpose. As Grendel matures and leaves his mother he becomes interested in looking for a meaning in the world and his purpose in it. Then as the novel progresses Grendel comes upon a familiar evil that is nihilism that becomes his provisional way of life once again. Subsequently, an abomination of nihilism quickly comes to disprove his new found philosophy. Grendel in the beginning of the novel is naïve and innocent to the world and really does not know what to believe, leaving many questions. After leaving his mother’s cave Grendel’s innocence is no longer unblemished and is introduced to an obscure world. As a shield against the rest of the universe and its many skeptics Grendel tries to derive meaning from the world. Although after he leaves his mother and becomes independent Grendel realizes his mission in life is to disrupt the lives of the humans. During this time Grendel is stuck in profound confusion by how he feels that nothing is truly of significance in the world, and how no matter how many men he kills, he will not break their spirits.

Grendel articulates his emotions toward the men’s’ reaction when he says, “Meanwhile, up in the shattered hall, the builders are hammering ,replacing the door for (it must be) the fiftieth or sixtieth time, industrious and witless as worker ants- except that they make, small, foolish changes, adding a few more iron pegs, more iron bands, with tireless dogmatism.” (Gardner 14)

The main word to look for in this quote is “dogmatism” which in other words means to be stubborn. Grendel cannot comprehend why the...
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