Humans equal to Grendel? Or perhaps more monstrous? Grendel kills men and children in Beowulf without hesitation. He is an evil beast with no intention to make peace; yet in John Gardner’s Grendel, Grendel has choices, hesitation and experiences deep emotions. Grendel observes and analyzes humans and animals, and tries to understand why people are the way they are, but he also has mentors: the shaper, explaining the humans point of view, and the dragon, urging Grendel to believe that people are nothing.
Gardner’s Grendel does have a sense of thought and emotions, and is able to comprehend humans at the most, therefore leading him to be more man than beast, also making him a murderer which then makes him a monster. However, humans are also the monsters because they kill each other, make war without reason, and are just as cruel as Grendel. Unferth, who has great jealousy of Beowulf, is a great example of how man can commit such evil acts. Unferth is the top man of Hrothgar’s hall and is glorified and does not hide his sense of pride. He believes he is a hero, for a hero is not afraid to die.
He states to Grendel, “A hero is not afraid to face cruel truth” (Gardner 88). In chapter six, Grendel almost kills Unferth, but lets him live. Grendel hated how Unferth talked so highly of himself, listening to his talk about being a hero made him sick. So, Grendel wanted to prove Unferth and others wrong; he is no hero, but a coward. Unferth states to Grendel ,, “You talk of heroism as noble language, dignity. It’s more than that, as my coming here has proved. No man above us will ever know whether Unferth died here or fled to the hills like a coward. Only you and I and God will know the truth.
That’s inner heroism” (Gardner 88). Unferth believes to be a hero, but Grendel sees right through him. Unferth’s cowardliness shows up again in chapter eleven when Beowulf (the stranger) is being ridiculed by Unferth, suggesting that Beowulf’s swim with Brecca was foolish and Beowulf could not defeat Grendel. Beowulf shot back to Unferth, telling everyone how less of a man Unferth really is. “I don’t boast much of that. Nevertheless, I don’t recall hearing any glorious deeds of yours, except that you murdered your brothers” (Gardner 162). Grendel kills many men, but he would never hurt his mother, let alone kill her.
This shows how more monstrous man can be than Grendel. Unferth is the monster, for he killed his brothers out of pure jealousy. Humans are more monstrous than Grendel because the tribal leaders declare war unnecessarily on other towns and villages. They waged wars on each other for no reason, and if so, they would be for very simple reasons, like a missing cow or boasts getting out of control. Grendel talks about their stupidity getting out of hand when he states, “I watched it, season after season. . . I could look out and see all the mead halls burning on the various hills across the country side. . . s many as three in one night” (Gardner 37). Grendel, a monster, finds their killing to be idiotic and strange “It was confusing and frightening, not in a way that I could untangle. . . I was sickened, if only at the waste of it. All they killed –cows horses, men– they left to rot or burn” (Gardner 36). When men kill, they typically did it for glory and money, rather than for food; portraying them as true monsters for killing others for no reason. Grendel indeed kills for no particular good reason either, but he is already perceived as monsters, and humankind had the chance to change for the better, instead they kill just as well.
Grendel tortures in a sense, for example, in chapter seven when he is watching Wealtheow, he is perceived to have some feelings for her, yet that does not stop him from barging in and grabbing her by the legs making her believe she is going to die. Grendel explains, “I changed my mind. It would be meaningless, killing her. As meaningless as letting her live. It would be, for me, mere pointless pleasure, an illusion of order for this one frail, foolish flicker-flash in the long dull fall of eternity” (Gardner 110). Cowardliness is also seen when no one attempts to help her, even though she is surrounded by guards.
Yes, Grendel does torture, but Beowulf tortures Grendel as well. When Grendel enters the mead hall ready to fight with Beowulf, Grendel slips in blood and Beowulf has the upper hand, having full advantage to kill Grendel. Beowulf makes sure that Grendel is tortured, “‘Feel the wall, is it not hard”‘ He smashes me against it, breaks open my forehead. ‘Hard, yes! Observe the hardness, write it down in careful runes. Now sing of walls! Sing! ‘” (Gardner 171). There is no need for Beowulf force him to sing about being beaten against a wall, but instead he does it just to be cruel.
Grendel cries for mercy throughout, but Beowulf just laughs and continues to torture Grendel. After all of this pain and embarrassment for Grendel, Beowulf tears his entire arm off. Grendel escapes but dies in the woods. Beowulf would have tortured him until he died if he had the chance, but he is left with Grendel’s arm to gain more pride and glory. In this chapter, Beowulf is more to be seen as a monster. Grendel kills for he believes that all humans are crazy and idiotic for listening to the shapers words of heroism; humans kill for glory and treasure.
If Grendel would have been accepted by the humans, maybe he would not be such a monster, yet if Grendel were not so irrational, and had some sort of balance, perhaps events may have occurred differently. Heroic morality misinterpreted by Grendel and Beowulf. Gredel despises heroism and Unferth lets pride take over. Humans and Grendel are no different, every motive was lead by money, war, and glory, ultimately leading to deaths. Therefore, the monsters in John Gardner’s Grendel, are both Grendel and man kind.