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Beowulf Character Analysis

Beowulf is never named in the novel, but his identity can be inferred from context. He is the leader of the Geats and brings a band of men to come to Hrothgar and defeat Grendel for him. Beowulf's strength and commanding presence frighten Grendel when he first arrives. When he fights and defeats Grendel, he attempts to force his radical ideas upon him, telling Grendel that his mind makes the world what it is. After showing his physical and intellectual mastery over Grendel, he tears off Grendel’s arm, causing his death. While Grendel dies denying that Beowulf is a real hero (since he defeated Grendel through chance and trickery), Beowulf is the best example of a hero that the novel offers.

Beowulf Quotes in Grendel

The Grendel quotes below are all either spoken by Beowulf or refer to Beowulf. 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:
Monsters and Humans Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage edition of Grendel published in 1989.
Chapter 11 Quotes

I am mad with joy. –At least I think it’s joy. Strangers have come, and it’s a whole new game.

Related Characters: Grendel (speaker), Beowulf
Page Number: 151
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Grendel feels a sudden rush of excitement--a very rare emotion for an isolated, essentially immortal creature. Grendel is excited because of the arrival of a new group of humans, including Beowulf (though Grendel doesn't know him yet, and he remains unnamed throughout the novel).

The passage reinforces the ambiguous relationship between Grendel and humanity. Grendel despises humanity and yet can't survive without humanity. He craves intelligent beings with whom to interact, and challenges to his strength and immortality; therefore, the arrival of more humans is a blessing. Of course, Grendel continues to dislike humans and sneer at their culture, but since he's isolated so much of the time, he can't be picky about who he spends his time with.


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Chapter 12 Quotes

Grendel, Grendel! You make the world by whispers, second by second. Are you blind to that? Whether you make it a grave or a garden of roses is not the point.

Related Characters: Beowulf (speaker), Grendel
Page Number: 171
Explanation and Analysis:

In the climactic moments of the novel, Grendel has the encounter he's been craving and fearing for his entire life. He finally faces off against Beowulf, the human hero who eventually kills him. During the course of their fight together, Beowulf mocks Grendel, criticizing Grendel for the way he "makes the world."

Beowulf seems wiser about Grendel's hypocrisies and contradictions than anyone else in the novel. While Hrothgar dismisses Grendel as a mere monster, Beowulf is smart and perceptive enough to recognize Grendel for what he really is: a frustrated storyteller. Moreover, Beowulf truly defeats Grendel by pointing out the basic contradiction in his entire life: Grendel mocks humans for telling silly stories to get through life, and yet Grendel himself has only managed to survive with his sanity because he tells himself stories. Grendel insists that he is the center of his own universe: all of human civilization is his creation. If Grendel were to admit the truth (his life is meaningless) he would go mad with grief.

In short, Beowulf sums up Grendel's entire existence. Beowulf's actions are at once hostile and friendly: paradoxically, Beowulf's insights into Grendel's character suggest that he could have been Grendel's greatest friend (someone who understood Grendel completely), but at the same time Beowulf is destined to act as a human "hero," and thus he must destroy Grendel physically.

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Beowulf Character Timeline in Grendel

The timeline below shows where the character Beowulf appears in Grendel. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 11
Monsters and Humans Theme Icon
...leader, a huge, strong man (who is never named but can be inferred to be Beowulf). The leader told the guard that they were the Geats and had come as friends... (full context)
Heroism Theme Icon
Unferth rises and asks Beowulf if he is the one who supposedly swam for seven nights in the middle of... (full context)
Nature and Time Theme Icon
Philosophy, Theory, and Belief Theme Icon shaper sings. Grendel reflects that all beings obey the mechanics of time. Grendel and Beowulf both await their encounter, as other men go to sleep. Grendel says, “it is time.” (full context)
Chapter 12
Philosophy, Theory, and Belief Theme Icon
...he seizes and devours a man. He reaches for another but is mistaken: it is Beowulf, who is actually awake, waiting for Grendel. Beowulf grabs Grendel’s hand with a strong grip... (full context)
Philosophy, Theory, and Belief Theme Icon the oak’s roots from his vision. He falls and slips on the bloody floor. Beowulf is talking but Grendel refuses to listen, as Beowulf’s words hurt him like “chilly fire.”... (full context)
Nature and Time Theme Icon
Heroism Theme Icon
Philosophy, Theory, and Belief Theme Icon
Grendel calls out for his mother and tells Beowulf that if he wins it is only because of “mindless chance” since he was tricked... (full context)
Philosophy, Theory, and Belief Theme Icon
Grendel thinks Beowulf is crazy with his insane ideas. He maintains that it was chance and accident that... (full context)
Heroism Theme Icon
Philosophy, Theory, and Belief Theme Icon
Grendel cries out for his mother and flees into the woods, crying out that Beowulf’s victory was an accident. Suddenly he is looking down into the abyss from his vision.... (full context)