Grendel

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Grendel Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In the present day, the Shaper still sings, as Grendel continually spies on Hrothgar’s greatest meadhall, Hart. Grendel says that the Shaper built the hall with the power of his songs. He once sang of a glorious meadhall that would have power over the whole world and Hrothgar liked the idea of building such a hall by the sea.
The Shaper has the power to inspire the humans to great deeds. The example of the meadhall Hart shows that the Shaper can use his fictional art of language and music to effect real change in the world, to make men want to create great things through the inspiration of a beautiful (though false) past.
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Grendel knew the Shaper was lying but his words sounded true. Hrothgar gathered a slew of workers to construct the new meadhall. Grendel kept listening to the Shaper’s songs, which he knew were mere flattery, but was still swept up by it. Grendel felt bad about his monstrous nature and retreated into the darkness where he couldn’t hear the Shaper’s music, though he was “tormented by its images.”
The Shaper’s alluring falsehoods continue to torment Grendel. He knows that he should disbelieve the songs, but is tempted by their beauty. Still, the beauty of the Shaper’s art makes Grendel more aware of his difference and separation from the humans.
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Talking to himself out in the wild, Grendel thought about how the Shaper was able to reshape the world and change it. As he thought, Grendel thought he heard something talk back to him, some “impression from another mind” in the forest. The Shaper’s manner of speaking began to affect Grendel, who started to speak with pompous, poetic speech. The Shaper was able to change what people thought and thereby make the world better. Grendel knew that the Shaper only sang for pay, but was still fascinated by the Shaper, who seemed to be inspired by some force outside of himself. Grendel concluded that the Shaper created “the projected possible.”
Grendel continues to ponder the Shaper’s ability to reshape the world. This apparent ability of an individual’s mind to change the world relates to Grendel’s more general questioning of the relation between self and universe. The Shaper’s language is so alluring that it begins to affect Grendel’s own narration. He may feel anger and hate toward the Shaper, but he is also to some degree jealous of his artful language and so tries to imitate it.
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Feeling some kind of presence around him, Grendel went toward Hart. At the edge of the settlement, he accidentally stepped on a dead man, whose clothes had been stolen. As the Shaper began to play, Grendel picked up the body and went closer to the hall to listen.
Grendel thinks that he feels some presence in nature, which he will continue to think occasionally, although he knows nature to be mindless and mechanical. The dead man is further evidence of the humans’ unexplained, treacherous behavior.
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The Shaper sang of how the earth was first created by the greatest of gods and how two ancient brothers fought, splitting the world between darkness and light, between one cursed and one blessed race. Grendel was the descendant of the cursed race. Grendel believed the song and cried.
The Shaper sings of something resembling the Biblical story of Cain and Abel, in which Cain kills his brother Abel and is therefore cursed (and the story of Beowulf does identify Grendel as a descendant of Cain). This story provides the humans with a way to make sense of Grendel as a monster, something both inherently different from them—and evil in comparison to them—but somehow related.
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Grendel then rushed into the hall crying out “mercy!” and “peace!” The Shaper stopped playing and the men screamed and attacked Grendel. Grendel dropped to his knees, saying “friend.” One of the humans’ spears tipped with venom nicked Grendel and he suddenly realized that they could kill him. He fled to the forest.
Once again, Grendel’s peaceful intentions are misunderstood. The humans—who have now defined monstrous origins for Grendel—don’t take the time to listen to Grendel, but rather immediately perceive him as a dangerous monster.
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In the middle of the forest, Grendel moaned and wept. After calming down, he asked why he couldn’t have someone to talk to. He pondered whether the humans were as miserable as he was.
Grendel’s attempt to communicate with the humans is another attempt at breaking out of his isolation. He simply desires someone to talk to. He wonders if, even if he can't talk to the humans, he might share a connection to them through mutual but separate misery.
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Two nights later, Grendel went back to hear the Shaper, addicted to his singing. The Shaper sung lies about how men had fought heroically against Grendel. Grendel was outraged by the song. He felt a presence around him, but thought it might just be his imagination. After calming himself, he returned to his lair, remembering the Shaper’s songs.
Grendel is addicted to the Shaper’s singing, but is outraged by his lies concerning Grendel and the fake heroism of Hrothgar’s men. He again momentarily thinks that there is some presence in nature.
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Back in his cave, Grendel was convinced that the Shaper’s songs about the creation of the world and the feud between two ancient brothers were lies. But, the Shaper might make it true. Grendel then realized that he wanted the story to be true. He wanted the beauty and order of the story, even if he had to be the outcast. Grendel’s mother whimpered and scratched at her breast, from which Grendel had not nursed in years. Grendel describes her as “pitiful” and “foul.”
The Shaper’s language and art has the ability to make false things true. Grendel’s realization that he wants the story to be true shows how desperate he is for some kind of relationship with the humans and for some kind of meaning in the world. He is willing to be their cursed monster if it gives him a meaningful place and some connection to other people. Grendel’s continued growth and learning separates him further from his mother, who seems to him increasingly simple and brutish.
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Grendel awoke suddenly, feeling some presence around him again. He asked who it was, but no one replied. He went above-ground, where he cleared his mind and “sank away through earth and sea, toward the dragon.”
Again, Grendel feels some kind of mysterious presence, in contrast to his ideas that he alone truly exists, and that nature is devoid of consciousness.
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