John Gardner

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Themes and Colors
Monsters and Humans Theme Icon
Language Theme Icon
Loneliness and Isolation Theme Icon
Nature and Time Theme Icon
Heroism Theme Icon
Philosophy, Theory, and Belief Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Grendel, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Nature and Time Theme Icon

Throughout the novel, Grendel and other characters attempt to answer large questions concerning nature and time. Grendel speaks to nature and at times wonders if there is some kind of spirit in nature (as the Danes believe), but ultimately concludes that the world is made up of a series of mindless, mechanical processes. But then where do Grendel and the Danes fit into this understanding of nature? Is Grendel also simply carrying out a natural process, driven to act by his desires, or can he choose to act in a particular way that might mean something? The answer to this question depends greatly on one’s perspective of time. Having been around for much longer than the Danes, Grendel is able to laugh at their narrative of history and understanding of the world.

But the dragon—who can see past, present, and future—finds Grendel’s perspective equally laughable. From the dragon’s grand perspective, the world is simply “a swirl in the stream of time,” and “a temporary gathering of bits.” In the big picture, there is no order or meaning to the random chaos of nature. Regardless of whether one agrees with the ideas of the dragon, the novel ultimately suggests that one’s understanding of nature is greatly dependent on one’s perspective in time. How someone perceives his or her relation to the rest of the world depends on whether he or she is considering the world in terms of an individual’s lifetime, the history of a particular people, the history of the entire human race, or all of eternity.

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Nature and Time ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Nature and Time appears in each chapter of Grendel. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Nature and Time Quotes in Grendel

Below you will find the important quotes in Grendel related to the theme of Nature and Time.
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:
Chapter 5 Quotes

“A swirl in the stream of time. A temporary gathering of bits, a few random dust specks, so to speak—pure metaphor, you understand—then by chance a vast floating cloud of dustspecks, an expanding universe—” He shrugged. “Complexities: green dust as well as the regular kind. Purple dust. Gold. Additional refinements: sensitive dust, copulating dust, worshipful dust!

Related Characters: The Dragon (speaker)
Page Number: 70-71
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 9 Quotes

The ultimate evil is that Time is perpetual perishing, and being actual involves elimination. The nature of evil may be epitomized, therefore, in two simple but horrible and holy propositions: ‘Things fade’ and ‘Alternatives exclude.’

Related Characters: Ork (speaker)
Page Number: 132-133
Explanation and Analysis:

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: