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Grendel in Beowulf

By jding99 Sep 09, 2010 709 Words
Jeffrey Ding
Period 5
Grendel

Grendel is the main antagonist in the story so far. In the most basic terms, Grendel is a giant, cannibal creature dwelling in the outer darkness. He is first described as a demon that bears the curse of the seed of Cain, this means he’s a member of a resented and exiled lineage that includes marauding monsters and menacing trolls. Like Cain, Grendel is an outcast and haunts the swamplands on the boundary of human society. Although the poem doesn’t have an explicit description of Grendel, his supernatural actions like killing thirty spearmen and carrying them all back to his den and waging war against every Danish man of might show that he is strong and almost invincible. Although most of the poem’s description centers on the Christian point of view on Grendel, the commentary shows that Grendel has roots in Scandinavian folklore and is a mix of the devilish figure with the draugr figure which is a more animated and vengeful version of a zombie. Draugr’s usually have a mother who is even stronger and more evil than he and this is true of Grendel as well. Another crucial attribute of Grendel’s is his stealth which allows him to prowl and sneak up on unsuspecting warriors as he hunts at night. One last, interesting part of Grendel’s description is that he is ale to wield magic and cast spells because during the battle he protects himself from iron blades.

Grendel’s nature and his motivations for his evil deeds are crucial to understanding the character as a whole. I think there are two forces at work in causing Grendel to commit these acts of violence. The first is loneliness and resentment for being exiled to the swamplands. This is further supported because Grendel is a member of Cain’s lineage who God himself had exiled and put a curse on. More specifically, Grendel feels pain and jealousy because he hears the sounds of happiness and sweet music everyday from Hrothgar’s meadhall. He acts on this jealousy and desire to be accepted by spying on the Danes after the feast. At this point, I think that the second force that determines Grendel’s nature and motivations takes over. Grendel still has evil blood and is malicious in spirit which causes him to kill the thirty spearmen that are asleep in the hall and go on to kill even more in this war he fights against Hrothgar. It’s important to note that Grendel feels no guilt for what he is done which means he is truly evil in nature. Additionally the way he fights and kills men is very loathsome, because he prowls in the mist until he can trap wary or weak warriors. When he actually does have to fight someone strong in Beowulf, Grendel first kills a leeping thane and during the fierce battle Grendel’s courage fades. This articulates a clear contrast between Grendel and Beowulf in that Grendel is extremely dishonorable and has no justification for his killings. Thus, despite some legitimate feelings of resentment and jealousy that cause Grendel to target Hrothgar’s meadhall and to spy on it, his ultimate course of action which included mass violence was fueled mostly by his evil and malicious nature.

Grendel plays a crucial role as the antagonist in the early stages of the story but he is also a important symbol. Grendel represents the evil that is inherent in human nature and his actions represent the worst forms of expression of this evil nature. Despite this, I also think that Grendel is a good symbol for the outsider who is excluded from society and violently reacts to this repression. Finally, Grendel represents fear, because when darkness comes all the thanes left Heorot empty and still and people lost hope. Another way in which Grendel is an important character is his interaction with Beowulf and what the fight and Grendel’s eventual defeat implies. Beowulf’s defeat of Grendel shows triumph of confidence and hope over evil through both strength and virtue. Thus, Grendel’s nature and contrasts in his description compared to Beowulf are also important indicators of major themes in the poem.

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