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.
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.