Grendel

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The Ram, Bull, and Goat Symbol Analysis

The Ram, Bull, and Goat Symbol Icon
These three animals come to epitomize Grendel’s understanding of nature as indifferent and mechanical. At the beginning of the novel, the ram irritates Grendel because of the way it mindlessly follows its instincts and mechanical urges. When the young Grendel has his leg stuck in a tree, the bull repeatedly charges him in an attempt to defend its calf, which Grendel was hunting. The bull can do no real harm to Grendel, who can easily dodge its horns, but it repeatedly charges at Grendel without altering its approach at all. Grendel finds the bull’s stupidity and inability to think amusing, laughing scornfully at the animal. Near the end of the novel, the goat climbs up a rock cliff near Grendel’s den. Grendel tries to scare it away, rolls a log down the cliff at it, and hits it with stones. But even as it is injured, bleeding, and dying, the goat keeps climbing forward. Unlike the ram, which frustrates Grendel, and the bull, which amuses him, the goat haunts him with its mindless persistence. As the goat keeps climbing toward its imminent death, it also foreshadows Grendel’s upcoming death. While Grendel scorns the stupidity of nature, the novel also asks us to consider whether Grendel, who goes willingly to Beowulf though he knows it is dangerous, and the humans, who attempt to fight Grendel in the same way time and time again, are merely other instruments of a mechanical natural world that simply functions thoughtlessly.
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The Ram, Bull, and Goat Symbol Timeline in Grendel

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Ram, Bull, and Goat 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
...in the twelfth year of Grendel’s war with the humans. Wandering outside, he encounters a ram and tries to scare it away. He throws a rock at it, strikes the ground,... (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 asking the sky why creatures... (full context)
Chapter 2
Nature and Time Theme Icon
Then, a bull appeared, probably protecting the calf that Grendel was searching for. Grendel shouted at it, but... (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... (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... (full context)
Chapter 10
Monsters and Humans Theme Icon
Nature and Time Theme Icon
...scent of the dragon that is around him, accompanying his protective charm. He watches a goat climb the rock cliffs near his lair. He shouts at the goat to leave but... (full context)