Beowulf

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Grendel Character Analysis

A man-eating monster descended from the Biblical Cain. Grendel is described as a "walker in darkness," who is "wearing God's anger" and "lacking in joy" because he has inherited the curse the Biblical Cain received as a result of his murder of his brother Abel. While Grendel's psychology is not explored in detail in Beowulf, there is a sense that he attacks the Danes because his own enforced isolation has made him hate those who are able to enjoy society and companionship. As Heorot is a symbol of such society and companionship, being the place where the Danes congregate to eat, drink, tell stories, build fellowship among each other, and share in the generosity of their king, Grendel's attack on Heorot is thus symbolic as an attack on the idea of society itself. The novelist John Gardner wrote a book called Grendel that explores these ideas about Grendel more fully, and tells of the events of Beowulf from Grendel's point of view.

Grendel Quotes in Beowulf

The Beowulf quotes below are all either spoken by Grendel or refer to Grendel. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Family and Tribe Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Signet Classics edition of Beowulf published in 2008.
Grendel Attacks (Lines 86–193) Quotes
Till the monster stirred, that demon, that fiend
Grendel who haunted the moors, the wild
Marshes, and made his home in a hell.
Not hell but hell on earth.
He was spawned in that slime
Of Cain, murderous creatures banished
By God, punished forever for the crime
Of Abel's death.
Related Characters: Grendel
Page Number: 101-108
Explanation and Analysis:

After the speaker of the poem describes Heorot, the hall of the king Hrothgar, he moves to the darkness outside of the grand hall, where the fiendish creature Grendel lurks. Grendel is meant to be the opposite of a warrior; his "home" is "hell on earth," and he is alone, instead of enmeshed in a greater community. Grendel is described as a supernatural monster, instead of a human, but Grendel also supposedly descends from the Biblical sinner Cain -- a man who revealed the malice inherent in each human character. This contradiction between Grendel's supernatural and human natures introduces the way that paganism and Christianity conflict and overlap in this narrative. In general Beowulf appears to be a pagan story with an often conflicting layer of Christianity added on later.

On another level, the idea that Grendel is a monster because of his ancestor also seems extremely unfair, though this fits in with the values of much of the ancient world. Grendel is a victim of fate--he cannot change his nature, because he was born (and divinely cursed) with it.

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The monster relished his savage war
On the Danes, keeping the bloody feud
Alive, seeking no peace, offering
No truce, accepting no settlement, no price
In gold or land, and paying the living
For one crime only with another. No one
Waited for reparation from his plundering claws:
That shadow of death hunted in the darkness,
Stalked Hrothgar's warriors.
Related Characters: Hrothgar, Grendel
Related Symbols: Gold, Treasure, and Gifts
Page Number: 152-160
Explanation and Analysis:
Grendel repeatedly enters Heorot and kills many warriors under the cover of night--and without following the essential Anglo-Saxon principles of martial combat. Unlike humans, Grendel is unaffected by the potential of peace negotiations; he is not civilized by language, and follows "no truce, accepting no settlement, no price / In gold or land." Indeed, Grendel wages a war ("his savage war") on his own, instead of engaging in an exchange with others. It is this isolation which makes Grendel such a horrific figure. Warriors can be forgiven -- and, indeed, lauded -- for killing their enemies in battle, but a monster is unforgivable because he does so without participating in a greater context. 
A Feast at Heorot (Lines 491–701) Quotes
Grendel is no braver, no stronger
Than I am! I could kill him with my sword; I shall not,
Easy as it would be. This fiend is a bold
And famous fighter, but his claws and teeth...
Beating at my sword blade, would be helpless. I will meet him
With my hands empty-unless his heart
Fails him, seeing a soldier waiting
Weaponless, unafraid. Let God in His wisdom
Extend His hand where He wills, reward
Whom he chooses!
Related Characters: Beowulf (speaker), Grendel
Page Number: 677-687
Explanation and Analysis:
After detailing his past successes, such as his accomplishment of defeating Breca during their swimming match, Beowulf continues his speeches by predicting his imminent victory against Grendel. Here, Beowulf engages in the sometimes difficult process of proclaiming his superior nature without boasting excessively and displaying pride. He avoids this appearance of pride by alluding to the Christian God, asking Him to help whom He will and "reward / Whom he chooses." Beowulf implicitly suggests that his future success would partially derive from God's intervention, which implies that Beowulf's past victories might also be a product of the divine will. At the same time, Beowulf is also claiming that his own strength and courage are so great that he doesn't even need a sword to defeat Grendel.
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Grendel Character Timeline in Beowulf

The timeline below shows where the character Grendel appears in Beowulf. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Grendel Attacks (Lines 86–193)
Family and Tribe Theme Icon
Christianity and Paganism Theme Icon
But the monster Grendel, a descendent of Cain and therefore an outcast from society, hears the singing from his... (full context)
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Fame, Pride, and Shame Theme Icon
That night, Grendel visits Heorot as the Danes are sleeping. Grendel seizes thirty warriors and carries them to... (full context)
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The narrator notes that unlike men, Grendel has no desire to end the feud, or to pay compensation for those he kills... (full context)
Beowulf Arrives (Lines 194–490)
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Fame, Pride, and Shame Theme Icon
...of his life and the nephew of Hygelac, the king of the Geats, hears about Grendel. With fourteen loyal men, Beowulf sails to the land of the Danes. (full context)
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Good Warriors and Good Kings Theme Icon
...a man Hrothgar the son of Healfdene knows. Beowulf says the Geats, having heard of Grendel's attacks, offer help. The watchman lets them pass. (full context)
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Fame, Pride, and Shame Theme Icon
...to speak to Hrothgar. Beowulf greets Hrothgar, and says he has heard that because of Grendel, Heorot stands empty and useless after nightfall. Beowulf boasts of the great deeds of his... (full context)
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Because Grendel does not use weapons, Beowulf says that he will fight Grendel with his bare hands... (full context)
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...adds that he has often heard his men boast while drinking that they would meet Grendel with their swords in Heorot, only to find the hall awash in their blood the... (full context)
A Feast at Heorot (Lines 491–701)
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...Breca won. Unferth says he now expects Beowulf to fail to fulfill his boasts regarding Grendel. (full context)
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...so much, though he has heard that Unferth killed his own brother. Beowulf says that Grendel would never have overcome Heorot if Unferth were as brave as he claims to be. (full context)
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Fame, Pride, and Shame Theme Icon
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...the Danes leave the hall to Beowulf and his men. Beowulf again promises to fight Grendel with his bare hands. He says, "may God, the holy Lord, assign glory to the... (full context)
Beowulf vs. Grendel (Lines 702–836)
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Grendel approaches Heorot and tears open the doors. He grabs a sleeping Geat, Hondscioh, and eats... (full context)
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Grendel's fierce cries and the sounds of their epic struggle wake the warriors. Heorot shakes with... (full context)
Celebration (Lines 837–1250)
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In the morning, the Danes celebrate Beowulf's victory in Heorot. Men follow Grendel's tracks to the lake where Grendel died. The water boils with his blood. They return... (full context)
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Hrothgar thanks both God and Beowulf for the defeat of Grendel. He proclaims that Beowulf is now like a son to him, and rewards him with... (full context)
Grendel’s Mother (Lines 1251–1407)
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Though Grendel is dead, Grendel's mother still lives, and wants revenge for the death of her son.... (full context)
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...slept in a private chamber that night, is brought to Heorot. Hrothgar tells him that Grendel grabbed Aeschere, Hrothgar's adviser and companion in battle. Hrothgar adds that he has heard of... (full context)
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...too much." He adds that death comes to everyone, and then suggests that they follow Grendel's mother back to her lair immediately. (full context)
A Second Fight (Lines 1408–1639)
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Grendel's mother's lake is in a dark, rocky area. On the cliff overlooking the water they... (full context)
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...to swim for "part of a day" before he reaches lake bottom. When he lands, Grendel's mother grabs and squeezes him, but his armor protects him. She carries him to her... (full context)
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Beowulf strikes at Grendel's mother with the borrowed sword Hrunting, but the blade has no effect and actually breaks.... (full context)
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Grendel's mother stabs Beowulf with a knife, but his mail shirt blocks the blow. Beowulf then... (full context)
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In a corner, Beowulf sees Grendel's lifeless body. Still in fury at Grendel's awful deeds, he cuts off Grendel's head. (full context)
New Celebration (Lines 1640–1912)
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...Heorot, Beowulf presents the head and sword hilt to Hrothgar. He describes his fight with Grendel's mother, saying that "the fight would have been over at the start if God had... (full context)
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Hrothgar examines the hilt of the sword Beowulf used to kill Grendel's mother. In intricate workmanship, the story of Noah's flood, the flood that destroyed the race... (full context)
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...and had no adversaries. But that joy was followed by grief with the arrival of Grendel. He again thanks God that the strife is over. Night falls, and the men go... (full context)
Beowulf at Home (Lines 1913–2199)
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Beowulf next relates his fight with Grendel, detailing both the ferocity of the monster and the treasure he received from Hrothgar, and... (full context)
Facing the Dragon (Lines 2324–2710)
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...to the task since he has overcome so many dangers in his life, including defeating Grendel. (full context)