Grendel

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Grendel’s Mother Character Analysis

Unlike Grendel, his mother neither speaks nor questions the world. She spends most of her time in her underground lair and generally experiences the world in a purely physical way. Similarly, she is only able to express any affection for Grendel through physical gestures. Grendel expresses disdain for his mother, but when he is danger he calls for her, and it is her that rescues him when he first encounters humans.

Grendel’s Mother Quotes in Grendel

The Grendel quotes below are all either spoken by Grendel’s Mother or refer to Grendel’s Mother. 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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Chapter 2 Quotes

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.

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Grendel’s Mother Character Timeline in Grendel

The timeline below shows where the character Grendel’s Mother appears in Grendel. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Loneliness and Isolation Theme Icon
...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 has come out of his den,... (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 for an ancient crime... (full context)
Chapter 2
Language Theme Icon
Loneliness and Isolation Theme Icon
...games and explore underground, playing with invented friends. He explored all the chambers of his mother’s cave and eventually discovered a pool of firesnakes. He swam through the pool and discovered... (full context)
Loneliness and Isolation Theme Icon
...by dawn. He remembers a group of large shapes with eyes that sat in his mother’s cave and watched him. Grendel reflects that he thought his mother loved him in some... (full context)
Loneliness and Isolation Theme Icon
...joined tree trunks. Trapped out in the world after dawn, he called out for his mother and cried loudly, but she didn’t come. The sun rose and the world seemed horrible... (full context)
Philosophy, Theory, and Belief Theme Icon
Grendel laughed at the stupidity of the bull and kept looking around for his mother. He wondered if the shapes staring at him in the cave were relatives of his.... (full context)
Nature and Time Theme Icon
Philosophy, Theory, and Belief Theme Icon
...bull was gone. Vultures were flying overhead. He tried to imagine the world from his mother’s perspective and realized that he could never know how she perceives him. He fell asleep... (full context)
Monsters and Humans Theme Icon
Language Theme Icon
Loneliness and Isolation Theme Icon
...at them, but his voice came out as a moan. He cried out for his mother. The king ordered his men to surround Grendel and he realized that the humans were... (full context)
Loneliness and Isolation Theme Icon
...was done for, when suddenly he heard a shriek even louder than his. His terrifying mother came rushing in, roaring and shattering trees in her wake. The men fled. (full context)
Language Theme Icon
Loneliness and Isolation Theme Icon
Philosophy, Theory, and Belief Theme Icon
...were gone now and Grendel guesses that they had receded further underground. Alone with his mother, he attempted to explain to her what he had discovered about the world: its “meaningless... (full context)
Loneliness and Isolation Theme Icon
Philosophy, Theory, and Belief Theme Icon
...he is the only thing in the world that exists. He becomes upset as his mother continues to not understand him, and then his mother hurls herself on top of him... (full context)
Chapter 4
Monsters and Humans Theme Icon
Language Theme Icon
Loneliness and Isolation Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 6
Monsters and Humans Theme Icon
Loneliness and Isolation Theme Icon
...seven of them, taking joy in the killing. He says that he himself became the mother he had once searched for. He felt as though he had finally “become something” and... (full context)
Heroism Theme Icon
...cave. Three nights later, Unferth arrived, having followed him. Grendel woke up startled, stopped his mother from going to Unferth, and went to see Unferth himself. Unferth was exhausted and injured... (full context)
Chapter 7
Loneliness and Isolation Theme Icon
...Hart. He spent much time in his cave, thinking of Wealtheow and observing his mindless mother. At times Grendel would go to the meadhall and watch Wealtheow serve all the tables,... (full context)
Chapter 10
Loneliness and Isolation Theme Icon
Philosophy, Theory, and Belief Theme Icon
Back in the cave, Grendel continues to feel bored. His mother begins to block the entrance to the cave, trying to stop Grendel from leaving. When... (full context)
Monsters and Humans Theme Icon
Grendel decides to attend the Shaper’s funeral. His mother attempts to prevent him from leaving the cave. Grendel considers that she might know something... (full context)
Chapter 12
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... (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... (full context)