Grendel Characterization Essay
“Things are not always as they seem; the first appearance deceives many. ” (Phaedrus) This quote applies directly to man’s perception of Grendel in Beowulf as translated by Burton Raffel. The true character of Grendel is revealed in Grendel by John Gardener. These two works show Grendel as a bloodthirsty monster that murders warriors within King Hrothgar’s hall. Grendel is characterized in very different ways in these two depictions. They agree that Grendel led an angry unhappy life, he is a descendent of Cain and he is gleeful during his final attack.
Their differences include: the way Grendel felt about the conflict, his motives for killing the warriors and whether he was a merciless monster. Beowulf and Grendel agree on a few key elements of Grendel’s character. Grendel led an unhappy life. “He journeyed forever joyless. ” (line 402) Grendel continues on his murderous path without happiness. “I hold conversation with the only friend and comfort this world affords, my shadow. “ (Gardener 3) Grendel has no friends to confer with and so relies on himself for comfort. These lines show the loneliness and unhappiness that color Grendel’s life.
Another common thread between the two depictions is the fact that Grendel is of the race of Cain. He was, “Conceived by a pair of those monsters born Of Cain, murderous creatures banished By God, punished forever. ” (lines 19-22) Grendel is the descendant of the first murderer and this idea is also reflected in Grendel. “I, Grendel, was the dark side… the terrible race God cursed. ” (Gardener 43)
The last main trait that is shared by both of these texts is that Grendel is gleeful during his last attack. “He’s found no fighting here, but only food, only delight. (lines 330-331) Grendel has never faced resistance before his final attack and delights in returning to the hall night after night. “I am swollen with excitement, bloodlust and joy … that mingle in my chest like the twisting rage of a bone-fire. ” (Gardener 147) On the night of his last rampage, Grendel is overjoyed at the thought of the buffet of men laid before him. “I can hardly believe my luck and my wild heart laughs. ” (Gardener 147) This laughing is also documented in Beowulf. “His heart laughed, he relished the sight, intended to tear the life from those bodies by morning. (lines 412-414) Grendel’s feels like he has discovered a gold mine. He is “blazing half crazy with joy” at the thought of consuming the slumbering knights. (Gardener 147)
This same idea is documented in Beowulf, further emphasizing the fact that Grendel was euphoric during his final slaughter. “The monster’s mind was hot with the thought of food and the feasting his belly would soon know”. (lines 414-416) Beowulf and Grendel differ in the way that they characterize Grendel. Raffel claims that Grendel “relished his savaged war. ” (lines 66-67) On the other hand, Gardener presents a totally different perspective on the issue. And so begins the twelfth year of my idiotic war. The pain of it! The stupidity! ” (Gardener 1) In this passage, Grendel expresses his dissatisfaction with the conflict. Raffel also claims that Grendel went on “killing as often as he could coming alone bloodthirsty and horrible. (lines 80-81) This is disproved during an incident where Grendel does not kill a baby bird that has fallen in his path, “A baby bird falls feet-up in my path, squeaking. I let him lie. ” (Gardener 4)
This shows that Grendel does not kill as often as he can. Again on two separate occasions, he does not attack a lone ram or doe that were within range. Gardener 1,3) He also does not attack anyone during his multiple trips to town. (Gardener 34, 43, 87) Gardener also gives a reason for Grendel’s hate for Hrothgar’s people. “They hacked down trees and blistered the land till the forest looked like an old dog dying of mange. They thinned out the game, killed birds…set accidental fires…their pigs nosed up the very roots of what might have grown… There was nothing to stop the advance of men. ” Grendel saw himself as the savior of his home. His motive to kill was to stop Hrothgar’s men from destroying nature. The only way he knew how was to kill them all.
In Beowulf Grendel seemed “so set on murder that no crime could ever be enough, no savage assault quench his lust for evil. ” (50-54) Grendel isn’t shown as having a viable reason for his murder; Killing is just a sport. Gardener’s perspective shows a more sensitive side of Grendel. After hearing of his murderous lineage he “stood wriggling letting tears down my nose, grinding my fists into my streaming eyes… I bawled… I sank to my knees crying, ‘Friend! Friend! ’ “ (Gardener 43-44) This scene shows Grendel grieving after realizing what he is. This shows his sensitivity and how his loneliness has had an impact on the way he leads his life.
Grendel’s true character can be unearthed through comparing and contrasting Beowulf and Grendel. Their differences and similarities help to create a clear picture of who Grendel really was. Their similarities included : Grendel led an angry unhappy life, he is a descendent of Cain and he is gleeful during his final attack. Their differences included: the way Grendel felt about the conflict, his motives for killing the warriors and whether he was a merciless monster. Grendel was a malicious monster with a motive and a sensitive side. He was also very unhappy but found some pleasure in destroying the enemy.