Religion and Grendel

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Authors often have to choose between concentrating on

either plot or social commentary when writing their novels; in

John Gardener's Grendel, any notion of a plot is forgone in

order for him to share his thoughts about late sixties-early

seventies America and the world's institutions as a whole.

While Grendel's exploits are nearly indecipherable and yawn

inducing, they do provide the reader with the strong opinions

the author carries. This existentialistic novel can be seen

clearly as a narrative supporting nihilism in its many forms.

Most easily, the reader will be able to see the blatant

religious subtext in the guise of corrupt priests and the foolish

faithful. There is also some negativity placed on the notion of

the old being the wise. Gardener deems hero idolization

unacceptable as well; knowledge that the Vietnam War was

prevalent at the time gives additional insight into his

complaints. Religion plays a large role in Grendel. Priests do

not want to perform their services without the proper

payment which, in turn, causes the rich to be able to become

the most 'religious.' The citizens of the village are also

confusingly poly- and monotheistic. When praying to their

king god does not decrease the frequency of Grendel's visits,

they retreat to begging any god of which they have known

for help. This reveals their faith to be not faith at all but rather

faith that will remain faith as long as it can be proven. A

proven religious faith is contradictory term, for it can only be

placed in a religion that cannot be proven lest it is true faith

no longer. Grendel's interludes with the dragon portray, at

their onsets, the dragon as a worldly, wise creature with

much to share. The dragon haughtily informs Grendel about

his vast store of knowledge as he teases him with how much

he knows. As Grendel's interests are piqued, the dragon

expends the cumulative result of his...
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