Grendel

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Grendel is the protagonist and narrator of the novel. He is a terrifying monster who kills and eats humans, but he is also a lonely, isolated creature, who craves a friend or companion. Grendel is a relentlessly thinking and questioning character. As he grows and experiences new things, Grendel constantly theorizes about the world and ponders deep questions about time and space, formulating laws and drawing grand conclusions about the universe. Persuaded by the ideas of the dragon, Grendel accepts that the universe is meaningless and mechanical, but he is also deeply frustrated by the stupidity and indifference of nature and its inhabitants, as particularly shown through his interactions with the ram, bull, and goat. It is through Grendel’s eyes that we see the humans, and Grendel’s perspective emphasizes the cruelty and senseless violence of the humans. From Grendel’s point of view, the grandiose ideas of heroism, justice, and religion upon which the humans found their society are simply false, foolish ideas. Unlike his monstrous mother, Grendel has the ability to speak, and although he despises the Danes, he is also to some degree jealous of their community and feels a special bond with them, especially Hrothgar. He takes care not to wipe out all of the Danes, so that he still has people to frighten and toy with.

Grendel Quotes in Grendel

The Grendel 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:
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 1 Quotes

Behind my back, at the world’s end, my pale slightly glowing fat mother sleeps on, old, sick at heart, in our dingy underground room. Life-bloated, baffled, long-suffering hag. Guilty, she imagines, of some unremembered, perhaps ancestral crime. (She must have some human in her.) Not that she thinks. Not that she dissects and ponders the dusty mechanical bits of her miserable life’s curse.

Related Characters: Grendel (speaker), Grendel’s Mother
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:

Here we're introduced to Grendel's mother--a fearsome monster who, unlike Grendel himself, doesn't have the gift of speech. Grendel seems to feel no real affection for his mother whatsoever--instead, he regards her as a bloated hag. Grendel's lack of affection for his mother is paradoxical--on one hand, it's proof of his dignity and humanity (he's rejecting the barbarism with which he's usually associated); on the other, it suggests his own barbarism (it's barbaric to reject your own family).

Grendel is truly alone in the universe--even his own mother can't give him the company and conversation he craves. Grendel despises his mother because she represents everything he hates about himself--his ugliness, his foreignness to the humans, etc. Grendel aspires to be a thinker and a talker, but he can never form lasting bonds with other creatures because of his fearsome appearance. It's only appropriate that Grendel should both love and hate his mom.

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The king has lofty theories of his own. “Theories,” I whisper to the bloodstained ground. So the dragon once spoke. (“They’d map out roads through Hell with their crackpot theories!” I recall his laugh.)

Related Characters: Grendel (speaker), Hrothgar, The Dragon
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Grendel talks about the prevalence of "theories" among human beings. Grendel notes that most of the humans with whom he's fighting believe that he is a punishment sent from god. Grendel also notes that the king of the humans, Hrothgar, has different theories about the Grendel--theories which are no more accurate than his subjects'.

There's a lot to unpack here. First, it's clear that Grendel rejects humans' theories--indeed, much of human culture--as nonsense. The belief in god, for instance, is just a superstition to Grendel. Grendel is dismissive of human beliefs, but he's also insightful enough to tell the difference between Hrothgar's beliefs (the belief in heroism, it's implied) and his subjects' beliefs (a more religious belief in god and divinity).

The passage also mentions the Dragon--an almost omniscient yet somewhat unreliable character who embraces chaos and sneers at anyone who tries to make sense of it. The Dragon believes that all religions and beliefs are attempts to make sense of pain and suffering--attempts that do nothing to alleviate this suffering. (Hell burns, whether you have a theory about it or not.)

Chapter 2 Quotes

Talking, talking, spinning a spell, pale skin of words that closes me in like a coffin.

Related Characters: Grendel (speaker)
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

Grendel has no friends, nobody to talk to. All he has to keep him company are his words. With words, Grendel can create imaginary friends, hold long conversations with himself, and generally give his life some semblance of a community. (In this way he's very similar to Frankenstein's monster in Shelley's Frankenstein.)

Grendel sneers at much of human society, but he's too clever to sneer at language. Grendel's command of language is one of the most important bonds linking him with human culture--ironically, he's every bit as eloquent as the humans with whom he fights, and who consider him a monster and barbarian. And yet Grendel hates himself for relying so excessively on language: by accepting language, Grendel is also accepting the supremacy of human culture--the very culture that defines itself against him and strives to murder him.

I understood that the world was nothing: a mechanical chaos of casual, brute enmity on which we stupidly impose our hopes and fears. I understood that, finally and absolutely, I alone exist.

Related Characters: Grendel (speaker)
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Grendel recalls sketching out a radical theory of the universe: he is the only being who exists, imposing his reality upon chaos. Grendel was a lonely child, and he had nobody to talk to. After his encounter with the instinctual, mindless bull, he decides that he's lonely because there is nobody for him to talk to: only mindless animals like bulls.

Why does Grendel conclude that he alone exists? To begin with, Grendel's conclusion is a coping mechanism: it's easier for him to believe that he's alone in the universe than it is for him to believe that the other creatures of the universe are afraid of or hate him. On a more basic level, though, Grendel's thought process betrays his need for belief and theory. Grendel (later) sneers at human beliefs, and yet even he relies on "myths" about life--even if his choice of myth is much cruder and more straightforward than humans' myths. Grendel embodies the struggle to make sense of life--in his depression, Grendel decides that he alone exists.

I found I understood them: it was my own language, but spoken in a strange way... They were small, these creatures, with dead-looking eyes and gray-white faces, and yet in some ways they were like us, except ridiculous and, at the same time, mysteriously irritating, like rats. Their movements were stiff and regular, as if figured by logic... We stared at each other.

Related Characters: Grendel (speaker)
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Grendel comes face-to-face with his eventual opponents, the humans, for the first time. Grendel finds the humans as strange and frightening as the humans find him. (And this, of course, is the whole point of Gardner's book: he reverses the poem Beowulf to tell Grendel's story from Grendel's point of view.)

In the novel, there is no true good or evil: Grendel and the humans are just two sides of the same coin; i.e., two different intelligent races who have decided to fight one another to the death, defining themselves against their supposed "opposite." Naturally, the humans like to believe that they're the "good guys" and Grendel is "evil," but in truth, both sides are equal--a fact that Gardner reinforces by noting Grendel and the humans' common language, and their common struggle with the realities of life and the universe.

I tried to tell her all that had happened, all that I’d come to understand: the meaningless objectness of the world, the universal bruteness. She only stared, troubled at my noise. She’d forgotten all language long ago, or maybe had never known any.

Related Characters: Grendel (speaker), Grendel’s Mother
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:

Grendel has just come from a bloody fight with the humans, and he wants to tell his mother what he's just discovered: he wants to tell her how scarring and frightening the fight was. Furthermore, Grendel wants to tell his mother what the fight has taught him: all of life is nothing but a meaningless and violent struggle for power. Unfortunately, Grendel's mother can't talk.

The passage is important because it reinforces the sympathy we're supposed to feel for Grendel. At first, Grendel just wants someone to talk to: his desire for conversation and companionship is far greater than his desire for food or power. And yet when Grendel tries to talk to the humans, he's attacked. Grendel has no friends in the universe--he's persecuted and punished for being an "other," and so he naturally assumes the role thrust upon him: that of a monster.

Chapter 3 Quotes

Then once, around midnight, I came to a hall in ruins. The cows in their pens lay burbling blood through their nostrils, with javelin holes in their necks. None had been eaten. The watchdogs lay like dark wet stones, with their heads cut off, teeth bared. The fallen hall was a square of flames and acrid smoke, and the people inside (none of them had been eaten either) were burned black, small, like dwarfs turned dark and crisp.

Related Characters: Grendel (speaker)
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

In this surprising passage, Grendel goes to the village of men and is shocked to find that someone has beaten him to his work: someone has attacked the humans and killed them. Slowly, Grendel comes to realize that other humans are the ones who have burned down the village. Indeed, these other humans' evil vastly exceeds Grendel's own--Grendel eats his victims quickly, while the humans have burned their fellow men alive, and haven't even eaten the animals they killed. Their violence was not of necessity, but was pure cruelty and sadism. Humanity's worst enemy isn't Grendel--it's other people.

The passage is crucial because it establishes the reason that humans choose to fight Grendel. Humans need an excuse to unite together; without this, they'll tear themselves apart. Grendel is the ultimate "other," a nice reminder that humans can define themselves as a unit--i.e., something different from Grendel. Paradoxically, Grendel is crucial to the survival of the human race--without Grendel to do battle with, humans would turn on themselves and go extinct.

They hacked down trees in widening rings around their central halls and blistered the land with peasant huts and pigpen fences till the forest looked like an old dog, dying of mange. They thinned out the game, killed birds for sport, set accidental fires that would burn for days. Their sheep killed hedges, snipped valleys bare, and their pigs nosed up the very roots of what might have grown... There was nothing to stop the advance of man.

Related Characters: Grendel (speaker)
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:

Grendel watches closely at Hrothgar begins to institute order and community among men. Before, the men fought with each other, destroying their own societies. Now, however, men unite together to form one great community headed by Hrothgar.

It's crucial to notice the subtle difference between this passage and the previous passage quoted. Before, humans turned on each other--their destruction was nihilistic and self-defeating. Now, humans have turned their capacity for violence outward, toward nature. Instead of fighting other humans, they fight the natural world, destroying it heartlessly. The implication is that humans are hopelessly violent--whether they fight each other or fight Grendel, they have to fight something. Moreover, humans are disgustingly wasteful; they destroy nature for no discernible reason other than their innate desire for power and conflict.

So he sang—or intoned, with the harp behind him—twisting together like sailors’ ropes the bits and pieces of the best old songs. The people were hushed. Even the surrounding hills were hushed, as if brought low by language.

Related Characters: Grendel (speaker), The Shaper
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Grendel meets the Shaper--a bard who sings for the community of humans. The Shaper, Grendel knows full-well, is a liar: he sings beautiful, idealized songs about heroism, encouraging humans to go off and die for their communities. Without the influence of the Shaper, humans wouldn't be as violent: they need poets and writers to inspire them to go out and fight to the death.

And yet Grendel also finds the Shaper utterly transfixing. His words may be lies, but they're undeniably beautiful. In all, the passage reinforces Grendel's close relationship to humanity--a relationship that's mediated by the power of language. Grendel despises much of human culture, but he has a weakness for the single most essential part of human culture--words.

Chapter 4 Quotes

“Why can’t I have someone to talk to?” I said. The stars said nothing, but I pretended to ignore the rudeness.

Related Characters: Grendel (speaker)
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

Grendel continues to feel a deep depression over the fact that he's all alone in the universe, without anyone to talk to or relate to. He's been cursed with a love for words and conversation, but because he's a frightening creature, he has nobody with whom to converse.

Grendel's frustration has increased since his encounters with the Shaper. The Shaper's command of language has inspired Grendel deeply: Grendel wishes he could communicate with others, honing his rhetorical skill and elevating it to the level of art. (This desire is even reflected in the text itself, as Grendel starts speaking poetry instead of prose sometimes). Grendel's misery is so complete that he asks the stars to talk to him. Even when the stars, of course, "said nothing," Grendel tries to imagine that the stars could talk to him and are just being rude: he's desperate for communication.

It was a cold-blooded lie that a god had lovingly made the world and set out the sun and moon as lights to land-dwellers, that brothers had fought, that one of the races was saved, the other cursed. Yet he, the old Shaper, might make it true, by the sweetness of his harp, his cunning trickery. It came to me with a fierce jolt that I wanted it. As they did too, though vicious animals, cunning, cracked with theories. I wanted it, yes! Even if I must be the outcast, cursed by the rules of his hideous fable.

Related Characters: Grendel (speaker), The Shaper
Page Number: 55
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Grendel considers everything the Shaper has sung about. In his song, the Shaper claims that Grendel is descended from a semi-Biblical "bad brother" who was punished by god for his disobedience. In other words, the Shaper claims that Grendel is being punished for the sins of his ancestors. Humans, by contrast, are descended from a martyred "good brother." Notice that the Shaper's story echoes the Biblican Cain-Abel story, but with one major modification. In the Bible, Cain kills Abel before Abel can have any children, suggesting that no one is descended from the "good brother." Furthermore, Cain has children of his own and builds the first human city. (Although according to Judeo-Christian tradition, all of Cain's descendants are killed in the Great Flood, and the rest of humanity is descended from Adam and Eve's younger children.) If anything, then, humans are the descendants of the bad brother! But because humans refuse to accept their own sinful nature, they craft a different story, in which they're "good" and Grendel is "bad."

Grendel doesn't believe the Shaper's story, and yet his hunger for stories and art is so great that he accepts it--he wants to believe it. Grendel craves order and meaning in the universe. So even if he is cast as the villain in the Shaper's story, he'll accept this story because of the meaning it provides him. A sad story is better than no story at all.

Chapter 5 Quotes

“Ah, Grendel!” he said. He seemed that instant almost to rise to pity. “You improve them, my boy! Can’t you see that yourself? You stimulate them! You make them think and scheme. You drive them to poetry, science, religion, all that makes them what they are for as long as they last. You are, so to speak, the brute existent by which they learn to define themselves.”

Related Characters: The Dragon (speaker), Grendel
Page Number: 72
Explanation and Analysis:

In this crucial passage, the Dragon argues for what Albert Murray called "antagonistic cooperation." The idea here is that two opponents have an uneasy alliance: they need one another to make sense of their selves. So humans, in spite of their hostility toward Grendel, actually need Grendel in order to maintain their own identities. As we've already seen, humans are hopelessly violent and chaotic if left to themselves. But with Grendel to attack and define themselves against, humans have an excuse to band together and cooperate with one another. If Grendel were to vanish overnight, humanity would plunge into civil war and existential despair.

The Dragon's observation is remarkably perceptive, if paradoxical; it's a little strange to think that we need our enemies in any meaningful way. (It's worth noting that Gardner may have been slightly alluding to the Cold War here, during which Americans defined themselves according to their opposition to Communism and the Soviet Union.)

Chapter 6 Quotes

I discovered that the dragon had put a charm on me: no weapon could cut me. I could walk up to the meadhall whenever I pleased, and they were powerless. My heart became darker because of that. Though I scorned them, sometimes hated them, there had been something between myself and men when we could fight. Now, invulnerable, I was as solitary as one live tree in a vast landscape of coal.

Related Characters: Grendel (speaker), The Dragon
Page Number: 75-76
Explanation and Analysis:

After his conversation with the Dragon, Grendel discovers that no weapon can cut him because the Dragon has cast a spell of invulnerability upon him. But why does the Dragon cast such a charm on Grendel?

To begin with, the Dragon's charm proves his point: Grendel needs humans, and humans need Grendel. By rendering Grendel indestructible, the Dragon ensures that humans will always have to fight Grendel off. Therefore, humans will always have a rallying point: they'll always be able to band together against their common foe, ironically ensuring the survival of their civilization.

After the charm sets in, however, Grendel seems to have lost even this antagonistic bond between himself and humanity. Previously, Grendel felt a common connection with people--a connection rooted in language and mortality, as well as fighting and antagonism. Now, Grendel is forced to isolate himself from his opponents, existentially alone again and stubbornly denying the "antagonistic cooperation" that the Dragon argued for.

“It will be sung,” he whispered, then paused again to get wind. “It will be sung year on year and age on age that Unferth went down through the burning lake—” he paused to pant “—and gave his life in battle with the world-rim monster.” He let his cheek fall to the floor and lay panting for a long time, saying nothing. It dawned on me that he was waiting for me to kill him. I did nothing. I sat down and put my elbows on my knees and my chin on my fists and merely watched.

Related Characters: Grendel (speaker), Unferth (speaker)
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

Unferth is a self-described hero who lives in the village. He tries to hunt down Grendel and kill him, claiming that his acts of bravery will be remembered forever. In short, Unferth is heroism incarnate. Unferth genuinely believes in the myths that the Shaper sings: he genuinely believes that it's worthwhile to sacrifice one's life for the greater goods of combat, courage, and being immortalized in art.

As we can imagine, Grendel is very irritated with Unferth--he needs to take Unferth down a couple notches and show him that heroism is just a sham. Grendel is tempted to kill Unferth, but of course, doing so would only allow Unferth to win in the long run: Unferth would be celebrated forever for his noble sacrifice (and, based on this passage, clearly wants precisely this to happen). Instead, Grendel decides to spare Unferth's life, successfully disillusioning Unferth to the silliness and arbitrariness of heroism and any kind of artistic immortality.

Chapter 7 Quotes

What will we call the Hrothgar-Wrecker when Hrothgar has been wrecked?

Related Characters: Grendel (speaker), Hrothgar
Page Number: 91
Explanation and Analysis:

As the novel goes on, the Dragon's theory of antagonistic cooperation becomes truer and truer. Grendel had initially sneered at the idea that humans and monsters "need" each other.  But here, he realizes that the Dragon was right all along. Grendel could easily destroy Hrothgar and his kingdom altogether. But then, Grendel would be all alone in the universe once again--life is better for Grendel and the humans when Grendel holds back and spares some lives.

The passage reiterates that Grendel depends upon some form of interaction with other people. Grendel can't stand to accept the fact that he's all alone in the universe. Even if his interactions with other beings are horribly violent, they still serve a useful purpose by reminding him that he's not all by himself--he has a name as long as others are there to give it to him, even if that name is monstrous and antagonistic.

Chapter 8 Quotes

This nobility of his, this dignity: are they not my work? What was he before? nothing! A swollen-headed raider, full of boasts and stupid jokes and mead. ...I made him what he is. Have I not a right to test my own creation?

Related Characters: Grendel (speaker), Hrothgar
Page Number: 123
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Grendel wonders why he continues to terrorize Hrothgar, even after Hrothgar has become an old man. Grendel's answer to his own rhetorical question is very interesting: he claims that he can do whatever he wants to Hrothgar, since he made Hothgar what he is today. Grendel seems to have accepted the Dragon's theory: Grendel knows that he is useful to the humans, since he gives them something to unite against. His role as "monster" has essentially allowed Hrothgar to solidify his role as "king"--they are two sides of the same coin.

And yet the passage also represents a turning point in the novel. Previously, Grendel criticized humans for their excesses, and for wasting valuable resources. Here, however, Grendel seems to be sinking to humanity's level, wasting his time terrorizing a village and wasting the villages' resources for no practical reason whatsoever. Grendel has become the thing he hates most: a bored, corrupted human being.

Chapter 9 Quotes

I recall something. A void boundless as a nether sky. I hang by the twisted roots of an oak, looking down into immensity. Vastly far away I see the sun, black but shining, and slowly revolving around it there are spiders. I pause in my tracks, puzzled—though not stirred—by what I see. But then I am in the woods again, and the snow is falling, and everything alive is fast asleep. It is just some dream. I move on, uneasy; waiting.

Related Characters: Grendel (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Oak Overlooking the Abyss
Page Number: 137
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Grendel recalls a vision or dream he had of an oak tree dangling over a deep chasm. The oak tree seems poised to fall into the abyss, never to be seen again. And yet it's tied to the ground by its strong, firm roots--and Grendel is hanging from the roots, dangling over the abyss.

One could argue that this dream symbolizes Grendel's existential dilemma. For the time being, Grendel's security is complete: thanks to the Dragon, he can't be harmed in battle. And yet Grendel seems to sense that his days are numbered--sooner or later, he's going to be swallowed up by the "abyss" of death. Likewise, Grendel is constantly fighting off the existential despair of acknowledging his own smallness and meaninglessness in the face of the abyss of the universe and time. Grendel's uneasiness in this passage suggests that on some level, he knows what the vision means, and recognizes that one day he'll be defeated.

Chapter 10 Quotes

Tedium is the worst pain.

Related Characters: Grendel (speaker)
Page Number: 138
Explanation and Analysis:

Grendel is invulnerable to attacks from human beings--thanks to the Dragon's charms, no sword can cut him. As a result, Grendel begins to think of himself as an immortal. He has no real problems, because his life is never in any real danger, and so the greatest pain Grendel now experiences is the pain of dullness. Life is always exactly the same for Grendel: a battle with the humans, followed by incredible loneliness and existential despair.

The passage reiterates the extent of Grendel's isolation from the rest of the world. Previously, Grendel at least felt a bond with humanity because of his mortality; now that he's essentially immortal, Grendel feels no such bond, and thus, he's alienated from all other life forms.

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.

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.

“It was an accident,” I bellow back. I will cling to what is true. “Blind, mindless, mechanical. Mere logic of chance.”

Related Characters: Grendel (speaker)
Page Number: 173
Explanation and Analysis:

Beowulf has just defeated Grendel by ripping off his enormous arm, slowly killing him. Grendel refuses to believe that Beowulf has defeated him fairly and squarely--instead, he insists that Beowulf has won because of sheer dumb luck, because of the random chance of the universe's logic. Had Grendel reached inside the building on a different night, or had Beowulf been stationed somewhere else in the building, Grendel would still be alive.

Grendel's words reiterate his way of looking at the universe. Grendel refuses to acknowledge the existence of fate or destiny: even when he's been defeated, he refuses to admit that a true hero has defeated him. Instead, Grendel tries to downplay Beowulf's achievement, suggesting that Beowulf, in spite of his victory, is just another man. Ultimately, Grendel's true enemy isn't Beowulf; it's heroism itself. Grendel can't stand the idea that some people are meant to be great--and so, with his dying breaths, he continues to insist that Beowulf isn't really a hero at all.

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Grendel Character Timeline in Grendel

The timeline below shows where the character Grendel appears in Grendel. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Monsters and Humans Theme Icon
Loneliness and Isolation Theme Icon
Nature and Time Theme Icon
The novel begins in the twelfth year of Grendel’s war with the humans. Wandering outside, he encounters a ram and tries to scare it... (full context)
Monsters and Humans Theme Icon
Loneliness and Isolation Theme Icon
Nature and Time Theme Icon
Grendel walks away from the ram, toward a forest, reflecting on his difference from animals and... (full context)
Language Theme Icon
Loneliness and Isolation Theme Icon
Nature and Time Theme Icon
Philosophy, Theory, and Belief Theme Icon
A doe in a clearing sees Grendel and runs away. Grendel cries out that this is unfair, since he has never killed... (full context)
Loneliness and Isolation Theme Icon
The beginning of spring is apparent even in the underground lair where Grendel lives with his foul, monstrous mother. He has felt the stirrings of spring and so... (full context)
Monsters and Humans Theme Icon
Loneliness and Isolation Theme Icon
Nature and Time Theme Icon
Grendel shouts and mocks the cliffs, from whose height he could fall and die. He is... (full context)
Monsters and Humans Theme Icon
Language Theme Icon
Loneliness and Isolation Theme Icon
Philosophy, Theory, and Belief Theme Icon
Grendel thinks of his mother sleeping in their underground lair. He thinks that she feels guilty... (full context)
Monsters and Humans Theme Icon
Grendel comes to Hrothgar’s meadhall, where he’s been busting down the door and terrorizing the inhabitants... (full context)
Philosophy, Theory, and Belief Theme Icon
As he leaves the meadhall, Grendel hears various humans saying that he is a punishment sent to them because a god... (full context)
Monsters and Humans Theme Icon
Philosophy, Theory, and Belief Theme Icon
Watching from the edge of the forest, Grendel observes as the humans pray and then prepare a funeral mound for the deceased—or at... (full context)
Chapter 2
Language Theme Icon
Loneliness and Isolation Theme Icon
Grendel walks around the wilderness while talking and muttering. He says that his words enclose him... (full context)
Loneliness and Isolation Theme Icon
Grendel recalls how he would gradually play farther and farther out into the world, fleeing back... (full context)
Loneliness and Isolation Theme Icon
Grendel remembers one morning when he went out hunting in the woods for a calf and... (full context)
Nature and Time Theme Icon
Then, a bull appeared, probably protecting the calf that Grendel was searching for. Grendel shouted at it, but it wouldn’t go away. It charged and... (full context)
Philosophy, Theory, and Belief Theme Icon
Grendel laughed at the stupidity of the bull and kept looking around for his mother. He... (full context)
Nature and Time Theme Icon
Philosophy, Theory, and Belief Theme Icon
The bull kept charging and Grendel kept laughing at it, not even bothering any more to dodge its horns. Grendel fell... (full context)
Monsters and Humans Theme Icon
Language Theme Icon
That night, Grendel awoke to a strange smell and an eerie silence. He looked around to find men... (full context)
Monsters and Humans Theme Icon
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The humans then tried to decide what Grendel was. One suggested that he was a fungus or growth. One human, identified as a... (full context)
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Grendel tried to yell “pig” to confirm that he was hungry, but his voice scared the... (full context)
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Grendel was convinced that he was done for, when suddenly he heard a shriek even louder... (full context)
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The next thing Grendel remembers is waking up back in the cave. The other shapes were gone now and... (full context)
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Grendel emerges from his memory, once again in his underground cave, and keeps talking and theorizing... (full context)
Chapter 3
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Grendel says that he didn’t decide to be Hrothgar’s enemy because of the axe he threw,... (full context)
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...hunted. The men would drink and brag about their fights with other bands of men. Grendel was amused by the humans, observing of their violence that “no wolf was so vicious... (full context)
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Grendel describes how humans would gather around meadhall tables and boast. Occasionally an argument would break... (full context)
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One spring, Grendel noticed a change in the humans’ behavior. Groups of men would shout that they were... (full context)
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One night, around midnight, Grendel found a hall in ruins, the community’s cows slaughtered but not eaten, the humans burned... (full context)
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From his place up in the trees, Grendel could often hear the singers in the meadhalls singing of glorious deeds of dead kings,... (full context)
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Grendel felt safe from the humans’ wars up in the trees. Though he and the humans... (full context)
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As wars continued, some groups of humans formed alliances (though some allies betrayed each other). Grendel watched season after season, sometimes from the high cliff wall near his den, as Hrothgar... (full context)
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...amounts of game, and killed birds for sport. Their own animals grazed and cleared hedges. Grendel says that “there was nothing to stop the advance of man.” He began to feel... (full context)
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One night, watching from behind a cowshed, Grendel saw a blind man arrive at Hrothgar’s meadhall with a harp and a young companion.... (full context)
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Grendel was swept up in the song and music of the Shaper even though he knows... (full context)
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Grendel fled from the meadhall crying, feeling ridiculous and pained by the Shaper’s poetry. He attempted... (full context)
Chapter 4
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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... (full context)
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Grendel knew the Shaper was lying but his words sounded true. Hrothgar gathered a slew of... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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...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. (full context)
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Grendel then rushed into the hall crying out “mercy!” and “peace!” The Shaper stopped playing and... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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Two nights later, Grendel went back to hear the Shaper, addicted to his singing. The Shaper sung lies about... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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Grendel awoke suddenly, feeling some presence around him again. He asked who it was, but no... (full context)
Chapter 5
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Grendel recalls his meeting with the dragon, a humongous creature who lay on top of his... (full context)
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Irritated, Grendel picked up an emerald to throw at the dragon. The dragon got immediately stern and... (full context)
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The dragon gave Grendel the advice to find some gold and watch over it. Grendel attempted to question the... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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...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. (full context)
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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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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Grendel asked the dragon why he shouldn’t stop terrifying the humans. The dragon answered that Grendel... (full context)
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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... (full context)
Chapter 6
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After his meeting with the dragon, Grendel felt an air of futility and doom around himself. Also, the dragon had put a... (full context)
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In the summer of the first year of Grendel’s war with Hrothgar, Grendel was drawn to the meadhall though he had not yet begun... (full context)
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One night as he was doing this, a stick snapped behind Grendel and a dog barked. A guard discovered him and struck him with a sword, but... (full context)
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Three or four nights later, Grendel performed his first raid. He burst into the hall while the men were sleeping and... (full context)
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A few nights later, Grendel raided Hart again. The humans tried to attack him bravely, but their weapons were useless... (full context)
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Then, a man named Unferth appeared. Grendel calls Unferth his salvation. Taller than the other men, Unferth took on Grendel single-handedly and... (full context)
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Grendel returned to his cave. Three nights later, Unferth arrived, having followed him. Grendel woke up... (full context)
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Frustrated, Unferth told Grendel that he was wrong about heroism, that it really did exist and that Unferth was... (full context)
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Unferth fell asleep and Grendel carried him back home, leaving him at the meadhall door. Grendel says that Unferth still... (full context)
Chapter 7
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It is now mid-way through the twelfth year in Grendel’s war with the humans. Grendel thinks that his enemies do define themselves against him, just... (full context)
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Grendel sings, influenced by the language of the Shaper. He thinks he might be crazy but... (full context)
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As Grendel’s stream of consciousness continues to alternate with third-person narration, he thinks of Hrothgar’s queen, Wealtheow,... (full context)
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Grendel remembers how Wealtheow first appeared, during the second year of his raids. Hrothgar had gathered... (full context)
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Hrothgar met with the other king. Grendel anticipated a battle, but the king asked for a truce and offered Hrothgar gifts. Hrothgar... (full context)
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All that winter, Grendel refrained from raiding Hart. He spent much time in his cave, thinking of Wealtheow and... (full context)
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Grendel spent much time pondering the power of Wealtheow’s beauty. He often saw her cry at... (full context)
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The next night, Grendel raided the meadhall, killing men on his way to the queen’s bedroom. Finding Wealtheow, he... (full context)
Chapter 8
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Imitating an epic, heroic style, Grendel tells of how Hrothgar’s brother was murdered and so his young nephew Hrothulf came to... (full context)
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The novel returns to Grendel’s narration, as he describes how he saw Hrothulf increasingly take to the idea of violence.... (full context)
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Grendel notes that Hrothgar is no longer physically strong and is aware of the scheming of... (full context)
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Grendel thinks of a dream to “impute” to Hrothgar. Hrothgar then narrates the dream he has:... (full context)
Chapter 9
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It is now December, dark and cold. Children in town make snow angels, which Grendel notices as he goes to the meadhall at night. He feels that some event is... (full context)
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Grendel observes some priests near the meadhall praying to a ring of icons of their gods.... (full context)
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One dark night, at midnight, Grendel sits in the center of the circle of the icons. The humans are all asleep,... (full context)
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...presents two axioms: “things fade” and “alternatives exclude.” He continues to preach and theorize, while Grendel thinks of what to do with him. (full context)
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Three other priests arrive. Grendel narrates a dramatic dialogue of what follows. The priests ask what Ork is doing. Ork... (full context)
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All the men but Unferth are asleep. As Grendel doesn’t usually raid in the winter, he heads back to his home. He has a... (full context)
Chapter 10
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Grendel is profoundly bored and sick of the scent of the dragon that is around him,... (full context)
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At dusk, Grendel watches Hrothgar’s men going about their business. There are guards posted throughout the realm, though... (full context)
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The Shaper is sick. Grendel watches as Hrothgar, Wealtheow, and Hrothulf go to visit the Shaper’s sickbed. Grendel laughs, asking... (full context)
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Back in the cave, Grendel continues to feel bored. His mother begins to block the entrance to the cave, trying... (full context)
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Grendel decides to attend the Shaper’s funeral. His mother attempts to prevent him from leaving the... (full context)
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Back in his lair, Grendel awakes from a deep sleep, imagining that he still hears the goat climbing up the... (full context)
Chapter 11
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Grendel is overjoyed because a new group of humans has arrived by boat. He sensed their... (full context)
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Back in his cave, Grendel wonders if he is afraid of the Geats. In any case, he is excited by... (full context)
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Grendel decides to go to the meadhall, reflecting on the facts that he alone exists and... (full context)
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Grendel sees that Hrothgar’s Danes are embarrassed and frustrated that foreigners have come to save them.... (full context)
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...Unferth says that Beowulf lost the contest and predicts that he will be defeated by Grendel. Hrothgar’s men laugh. Beowulf responds that he actually won the swimming contest, in which he... (full context)
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Grendel watches Beowulf and is transfixed by the warrior’s mouth as he speaks and by his... (full context)
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The Geats wait in the hall for Grendel as the new shaper sings. Grendel reflects that all beings obey the mechanics of time.... (full context)
Chapter 12
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Grendel forces open the doors of the meadhall and laughs. Everyone is asleep, so he seizes... (full context)
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Grendel tries to kick, but feels as though he is falling, clutching at the oak’s roots... (full context)
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Grendel calls out for his mother and tells Beowulf that if he wins it is only... (full context)
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Grendel thinks Beowulf is crazy with his insane ideas. He maintains that it was chance and... (full context)
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Grendel cries out for his mother and flees into the woods, crying out that Beowulf’s victory... (full context)