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Grendel lives in a world in which his attempts at communication are continually frustrated. The animals that surround him are dumb and undignified. His mother not only lacks the capacity for language, but is also dominated by emotional instinct; indeed, we sense that even if she could speak, she would likely be an unworthy conversational partner for the intelligent, inquisitive Grendel.
Grendel, then, often finds himself talking to the sky, or the air, and never hears a response. He is largely trapped in a state of one-way communication, an extended interior monologue.
The Shaper’s tale of Cain and Abel—the two sons of Adam and Eve who are the ancestors of Grendel and humankind, respectively—further underscores Grendel’s tragic status.
Grendel and humankind share a common heritage, but this heritage keeps them forever locked in enmity as opposed to bringing them closer. Grendel is just one in a long line of literary monsters whose inner lives resemble those of humans but whose outer appearances keep them from enjoying the comforts of civilization and companionship .
Grendel’s Battle with Society Anglo-Saxon Culture & the Shaper
Anglo-Saxon culture viewed fate as an immensely powerful force, one that was wholly inescapable. This overarching pattern and plan governing the novel contradicts Grendel’s basic assertion that the world is meaningless and follows no set order.
We know this cause the events of the epic poem Beowulf predetermine the events of the novel Grendel. Beowulf has incredible power over the world of Grendel.
Before anyone read the first page of Grendel , they knew that Grendel must encounter Beowulf and die at Beowulf’s hands, for the event is already recorded in the earlier poem.
The power of the Shaper’s art and imagination turns Grendel’s world upside down, causing Grendel to desire what he knows to be illusory.
Grendel finds the Shaper’s poems so stirring that he wants to be a part of them, even if it means he must be forever trapped in the role of the villain.
On a linguistic level, Grendel is also affected by the narrative he hears the Shaper reciting. When Grendel decides to begin a war with Hrothgar, he triumphantly refers to himself as “Grendel, Ruiner of Meadhalls…”
Grendel is affected not only by stories he hears, but also by stories that exist outside his own experience.
According to Gardner, art — and especially poetry — is the only thing that gives meaning to an otherwise meaningless universe.
Language is the only way that humans can break through the wall that isolates them from other humans and from the world of meaning.
The importance of language in Grendel is breaking through this wall is signaled not only by the significance of the Shaper's character but by the degree to which language plays a part in several other major characters.
Most significant of these is Grendel himself, who begins the story as an inarticulate character like his mother but who rises at different points in the story to new levels of poetic intensity, however misunderstood by humans. (See, for example, Chapters 7, 8, 9, and 12.)
Perhaps the most pathetic character in the story is Grendel's mother, who speaks no language at all, and who cannot even be understood by her own son. Though she does venture out of her cave at least once, to rescue her son, for the most part she is confined to a dark cave that symbolizes her total linguistic isolation.
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We see another form of goodness in Wealtheow's comforting of the aged king, to whom she has sacrificed all personal comfort for the sake of keeping peace between potentially warring kingdoms.
And of course Beowulf's slaying of Grendel at the end represents the ultimate triumph of good over evil.
For Grendel, for all his artistic attempts, at the end still remains a person who believes there is no purpose in existence: a nihilist who insists that the result of his fatal fight was just an "accident" (Chapter 12) in a world with no real meaning.