Grendel

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Grendel Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Grendel recalls his meeting with the dragon, a humongous creature who lay on top of his treasure hoard in his cave. The dragon told Grendel he was expecting him. Grendel was in awe of the dragon, who commented that Grendel now knew how the humans felt about him. The dragon laughed at how silly the terrified Grendel looked.
Grendel’s fear of the dragon shows him how the humans feel around him. The difference between monsters and other creatures is thus revealed to be, at least partially, a matter of perspective: Grendel is terrifying to the humans, but so is the dragon to him.
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Irritated, Grendel picked up an emerald to throw at the dragon. The dragon got immediately stern and told Grendel never to touch the treasure. Grendel thought about no longer trying to scare the humans, but the dragon encouraged him to keep doing it.
Grendel is not yet committed to his rivalry with the humans, but the dragon encourages him to continue his feuds with them.
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The dragon gave Grendel the advice to find some gold and watch over it. Grendel attempted to question the dragon, who got angry and told him to stay still. The dragon told him about the Shaper, calling his art mere illusion. The dragon said that he knew everything: past, present, and future.
The dragon, who knows all, begins to lecture and teach Grendel about the world. He dismisses the Shaper’s songs as simple falsehoods. The dragon's advice about gold can be taken as advice to embrace solitude and selfishness, to cease to yearn for connection.
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The dragon referred to the humans as “counters, measurers, theory-makers,” saying that “they’d map out roads through Hell with their crackpottheories!” When the humans realize that their theories are flawed, the dragon explained, the Shaper helps by providing a pleasing illusion of reality.
The dragon scoffs at the humans’ endless theories (though he has his own system of theories and beliefs). The power of the Shaper’s language and art, according to the dragon, is to make the world seem comprehensible by being so compelling that the world seems to fit the humans’ theories. His songs are a way of creating comfortable lies.
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The dragon decided to tell Grendel about time and space, emphasizing the importance of scale and perspective in terms of time when thinking about nature. The dragon continued his philosophical explanation, suspicious that Grendel was not paying attention.
The dragon continues to expound his philosophy regarding time and the universe. He emphasizes the importance of perspective in terms of time.
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The dragon tried to explain further, saying that “the essence of life is to be found in the frustrations of established order.” Grendel had trouble following the dragon’s abstract language filled with philosophical jargon.
Grendel has trouble following the dragon’s explanations. While the dragon presents the most authoritative set of theories in the novel, his abstract and (at times) opaque language can be seen as a parody of idle, impractical philosophizing. The dragon's philosophy works for someone content to sit and count his gold, but perhaps not for someone who wants to live in the world.
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Continuing to try to educate Grendel, the dragon explained the difference between animals and vegetables. Grendel pondered whether the dragon was intentionally telling him nonsense. The dragon kept talking and then told Grendel that he was foolish to come.
Grendel is unable to grasp the dragon’s lofty ideas. While the dragon and Grendel can converse, Grendel still lacks someone he can really talk to and communicate with.
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The dragon then attempted to give a general summary of his ideas for Grendel: “things come and go.” The dragon explained that all life was meaningless, a small “swirl in the stream of time, a temporary gathering of bits.” Grendel refused to believe the dragon, who told him he was hampered by his small mind.
The dragon’s main point is that individuals’ lives are unimportant and meaningless in the context of the entire universe and all of eternity. Despite the persuasiveness and authority of the dragon’s ideas, Grendel's refusal to believe again suggests that the dragon's viewpoint is so vast as to be untenable for someone who must live in the world.
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Grendel asked the dragon why he shouldn’t stop terrifying the humans. The dragon answered that Grendel improved the humans, forcing them to think and scheme. He calls Grendel “the brute existent by which they [the humans] learn to define themselves.”
The dragon is able to see that the humans need Grendel. Their antagonistic relationship propels the humans to improve. More fundamentally, the humans need a monster against which to define their humanity.
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The dragon explained his own personal ambition: to count all of his treasure. He advises Grendel, “know thyself.” Grendel told the dragon of the Shaper’s story of the world’s creation, which the dragon called ridiculous. The dragon reiterated the unimportance of all life in the grand scheme of eternity. Grendel protested. Finally, the dragon told him to “seek out gold and sit on it.”
The dragon’s view of the world is self-centered. He adapts the ancient Greek aphorism “know thyself” to justify the selfish seeking out of treasure. The dragon again denigrates the Shaper’s stories as not just lies but as laughable, because he sees no value in a creation story—who cares about how things came to be if you are focused solely on yourself.
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Nature and Time Theme Icon
Philosophy, Theory, and Belief Theme Icon