(Beginning in paragraph two of Chapter 2, and continuing throughout the chapter, Grendel describes how he used to be as a child. How does this description compare or contrast with the behavior of the humans when they are fully-grown? ) In chapter two of Grendel, John Gardner takes the readers into a deeper aspect of Grendel’s life. Most specifically, this chapter revolves around the childhood life of Grendel.
Readers are able to access the mind of Grendel as a child, through a chapter that is almost entirely structured as a flashback to the situation that, arguably, may have transformed the typical ‘kid’ into the man-eating beast one was introduced to in Beowulf. However, Grendel isn’t to blame for his future actions, for his entire existence was tarnished when his young, impressionable mind was altered. Grendel’s innocence as a child was robbed, as with all children, when a new understanding of the world’s harshness was grasped.
It almost seems, however, that Grendel’s behavior as a child is mirrored in the “fully-grown and adult” humans he despises so much. Throughout the chapter, Grendel seems to place himself on a risen, intellectual pedestal, with the humans he deems childish roaming blindly and stupidly hopeful far below. As observed through history, the Anglo Saxons were a war like people, with religious seafaring clans that pledged themselves to an invisible greater-power and who traveled far and wide in their seafaring explorations.
These traits are identical to Grendel’s memories about his childhood, “I used to play games when I was young…. explored our far-flung underground world….. an endless wargame of leaps…whispered plotting with invisible friends…childish games…”. When Grendel looks out to the humans, he can’t help but recognize his own childhood ways in their lifestyle. The humans’ endless praying and constant adventure is laughable in Grendel’s eyes because it reminds him of his own past existence before his hope and innocence were tarnished by the daunting reality of an unpromising life.
Grendel’s attacks may not have been to hurt the humans for the heck of it, but rather, Grendel may have seen it as helping the humans into escaping an oblivious life, just as the humans did to Grendel when he was a child. It may be here that Grendel’s anger arises; Grendel absolutely knows his childhood was robbed from him, and it becomes his duty to enlighten the stupidly arrogant humans to recognize their true existence as well.
The humans, as we all know well to much, seem to be stuck in an endlessly spinning cycle of pointlessness and Grendel is the third person outsider who wants to bring upon the harsh reality of life. On page seventeen, Grendel states “the shocking separateness from me in my mother’s eyes…. [I would] hurl myself at my mother…comforted, I would gradually ease back out into my games. ”. Grendel’s feelings of uneasiness and misunderstandings are eased almost immediately with a hug from his mother, consoled with the love and connection of another.
As an adult, Grendel almost despises such comfort, growing obviously angry with the immediate comfort of the humans with the passing of a clan member with the simple thoughts of unification and the extension of life. Grendel lost that sense of spirituality and companionship, and seems to deem it childish and almost unnecessary as an adult. We see Grendel as an independent being in Beowulf, and his murders are controlled in an area where companionship and joy are absolute and strong; the mead hall.
It is more than a coincidence that Grendel chose to destroy the heart of the Anglo Saxon community, for he wished to destroy the hearts of the people. His continuation of destruction for what were the next twelve years were not because he enjoyed the killing and eating of the men (because it was stated that he didn’t) but because he realized that the hopefulness and unification of the community would not back down. Grendel’s own childish ways are exhibited here, for he continues his persistence until he can no longer.
In Grendel’s eyes, Grendel is a monster who, almost as the Anglo Saxons believed, has grown wiser and more knowledgeable with the endless spinning of life he so ardently chooses to misinterpret. In chapter two, Grendel fixes himself far from the humans that he seems to understand so fully. In fact, Grendel himself is a child who lost his innocence and optimism so abruptly that he didn’t recognize it. Grendel is angry and jealous of the humans because he sees in them the traits that he possessed when his life posed meaning.
Grendel became a nihilist, to some extent, because he decided to reject the life and being he was becoming. He instead chose to isolate himself so dangerously from his feelings that he had no other option but to inevitably give in to what he thought he should become. Upon the arrival of his death, Grendel was experiencing was seemed to be a type of mid-life crisis that developed from his childhood, or rather because of its absence.
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