Grendel forces open the doors of the meadhall and laughs. Everyone is asleep, so 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 and doesn’t let go. Grendel screams and imagines that Beowulf has fiery wings, but tells himself to hold onto reality: it is only a man.
Grendel’s physical struggle with Beowulf coincides with a philosophical struggle to see the world as it really is and to understand reality without succumbing to what he rationally knows are fantastical visions.
Grendel tries to kick, but feels as though he is falling, clutching at 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.” Grendel recalls the dragon’s words about the insignificance of individual lives. Beowulf says that Grendel’s time has come and that he will kill him.
Beowulf’s language and ideas are as hurtful to Grendel as his physical fighting. Grendel tries to maintain faith in the dragon’s ideas.
Grendel calls out for his mother and tells Beowulf that if he wins it is only because of “mindless chance” since he was tricked and then slipped by accident. Beowulf twists Grendel’s arm and hurls him into a table. He whispers that Grendel makes the world what it is and orders Grendel to sing of the wall he is thrown against. Grendel resists Beowulf’s idea that he creates the wall by imagining it, but obeys and sings. Beowulf laughs.
Grendel is so overcome by Beowulf that he regresses and cries for his mother. Grendel tries to maintain that his death was a meaningless accident (in line with his understanding of the world as essentially mechanical and meaningless), not the result of Beowulf’s heroism or righteousness. But Beowulf has a radically different idea. The dragon sees the world as so vast as to make men and their doings meaningless. Beowulf believes the radical opposite—that the world does not even exist without men. That men (and monsters) create the world by imagining it. Beowulf's beliefs might be described as radically heroic. He essentially sees himself as god, as creating the world by imagining it. Beowulf might be described as the next step in the philosophical evolution of mankind, in which men place themselves at the center of the universe and replace their own gods. Grendel is unprepared for such a fight.
Grendel thinks Beowulf is crazy with his insane ideas. He maintains that it was chance and accident that caused Beowulf’s victory. Beowulf tears off Grendel’s arm. Grendel shrieks in pain. Beowulf appears to have white wings and to breathe out fire. Grendel sees winged men all around him but then comes out of his vision, now aware that he will die.
Grendel is overcome both physically and mentally by Beowulf, and Beowulf in Grendel's vision comes to look like a different sort of dragon. Grendel struggles to separate reality from his strange visions, in some sense succumbing to Beowulf’s proposition that the world is what his mind makes it.
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. He comes to in the middle of the forest. Animals have gathered around to watch him die with “mindless, indifferent eyes.” Grendel dies; with his last words, he says that he has had an accident and spitefully tells the rest of the world, “So may you all.”
With his dying words, Grendel clings to his understanding of the world and denial of heroism. He maintains his belief in the random and meaningless chance of the world, refusing to believe that his death is anything other than an accident, not a meaningful heroic deed for Beowulf.