Jealousy and Isolation in Beowulf

10 October 2016

When one has been excluded from a group for a long time, it can often lead to feelings of contempt, and a need for revenge. This is the case with the monster, Grendel, in Beowulf, by John Gardner. Grendel feels excluded from humans in general, because he cannot understand them. He feels as though he does not belong to a community, because he has been living alone with his mother for such a long time. Overall, it is the combination of many different types of exclusions that pushes Grendel to become such a cruel, hideous beast with a hardened heart and a thirst to kill.

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Grendel is where most of the description of this monster is located. It is said that Grendel swam across a lake of fire snakes to reach human civilization. Here, he observes human civilization from up close, and he does not understand what he sees. He feels very different from those living in that society. In addition, Hrothgar becomes king and is given power and riches. He even builds a giant meadhall called Hart. Grendel is drawn in, discovers the Shaper, and becomes more curious. However, after a visit to the dragon, also an outsider, Grendel’s mind is changed because the dragon makes all these things sound so undesirable.

Talking to the dragon was the turning point for Grendel, and soon after, he becomes filled with rage and starts raiding Hart and harming the people inside. “His misery leaped / The seas, was told and sung in all / Men’s ears: how Grendel’s hatred began, / How the monster relished his savage war / On the Danes…” (lines 64-68). This proves that it was Grendel’s original longing to belong that made him this way. It is very likely that Grendel would not have become such a horrible monster if it had not been for his feelings of jealousy.

It is always hard to feel different and not accepted, and that is exactly how Grendel feels. Throughout the rest of the story, Grendel takes out his anger and wrath on seemingly innocent people, but there may be more to the story than what appears on the surface. These peope could have helped and included him, instead of letting him watch from the outside looking in. Jealousy drives people to do crazy things, and in Grendel’s case, jealousy of power, money, and acceptance are what make him change into a terrifying, cold-blooded killer that needs to be stopped, eventually, by Beowulf.

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