Discussion Questions

1. How does Grendel narrating his own story influence how the audience might respond to it?

By narrating his own story, Grendel inspires sympathy and even empathy in an audience used to thinking of him from the perspective of Beowulf, that is, as an inhuman monster.

For instance, Grendel is able to explain his motivations for what would otherwise appear to be random, or even insane, acts of evil. Without knowing Grendel’s internal thought processes, it would be difficult to understand many of his actions, such as attacking the naked Wealtheow as she sleeps, forcing her legs apart, then letting her go without harm. With Grendel narrating the story, his disturbing behavior can be explained through remarkably human motivations.

This style of narration can also allow modern readers, who are accustomed to brooding antiheroes, to relate to Grendel, despite how deeply unreliable he is as a narrator. Just as Grendel describes Beowulf as a having the voice of a “dead thing” who is an “outsider not only among the Danes but everywhere,” modern readers may struggle to relate to a cold paragon of heroism like Beowulf, who exemplifies the ideals of a “dead” age of literature. Grendel, on the other hand, is closer to a caricature of the modern antihero: self-centered, crafty, jaded, enigmatic, misunderstood, defiant, reflective, powerful, cynical, intelligent, observant, irreverent to authority, and emotionally unstable. Like the typical adolescent antihero of the late 20th century, Grendel is a threat to society and himself, the product of a painful past, and struggling to find the truth as he lives the life of an outcast. Thus, the story of Grendel is an easier sell to readers than the story of Beowulf, and therefore, more accessible.

Overall, Grendel’s narration makes the novel more accessible to a fresh audience, who expect a protagonist who is both sympathetic and flawed.

2. What is the role of humor in Grendel?

While a more typical work of serious...

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