I have always had an interest in villains and the complex minds behind them, even as a little girl, so I was immediately curious about Grendel when I first read Beowulf. He demonstrates evil behaviour, such as eating a man alive without any real reason other than for the pleasure of it, but why is he labelled as evil? What are the reasons behind his darkness? Is he truly a demon or a creature that has been caught up in a curse that is not his own? Because of these questions, I have chosen the passage that takes place from lines 86 to 114.
Grendel is first introduced as a â€œpowerful demonâ€, which immediately imposes the idea of a character that is wholly evil without any chance of redemption (86). The poet goes on to tell us that the joyful noises of a nearby hall upset Grendel. However, it is never explained why this upsets him. Is it because he hates happiness or is it because he is envious of them? It is described how God had created the world to be beautiful and helpful to mankind, which obviously excludes Grendel from these delights. This is the first suggestion of Grendel as an outcast. We soon find out that Grendel is the descendent of Cain, who is cursed for the murder of his brother Able. Cain was exiled from his homeland and cursed to be a â€œrestless wanderer on the earthâ€ (Genesis 4:12). The previous lines of the poem that describe Grendel to be â€œhauntingâ€ and â€œmaraudingâ€ around the fens liken him to Cain and his wandering. Even though Grendel spends most of his time in these parts, the marches are never referred to as his home. This may have been done in order to give the sense that Grendel truly is an outcast and is estranged everywhere.
How did Grendel get to be a monster? At first I mulled over the word â€œwandererâ€, which reminded me of historyâ€™s gypsies and how they were made outcasts. They were seen as abnormal and quite different from societyâ€™s norms, and when people are deemed to be different they are typically feared. When fear came into play, I then thought of the fear monsters instill in all of us. And there it was, the link between the initial wanderer and the monster: in this poem, outcasts are made to be monsters and vice versa.
I find that the poet of Beowulf makes Cain much more hated than is suggested in the bible, as he was simply exiled and made to wander. God did not hate Cain for what he did; in fact, God even protected Cain after he banished him. He made it so â€œno one who found him would kill himâ€ (Genesis 4:15). This made me think: if God did not want Cain to be murdered, would he want Beowulf to murder Grendel?
The very last line of this passage states that all of these cursed creatures are waiting for God to give them their â€œrewardâ€ (114). But just what is the reward? In the end, Grendel was given nothing but death. Peace is possibly the greatest reward of all and it is thought that there is peace in death, but is that what the poet meant? Did he or she mean to say that all these creatures will one day meet their possibly grim end, but in it they will finally find peace and will no longer have to wander?
Beowulf.Â Translated by Seamus Heaney. p.37-80. Greenblatt, Stephen, gen. ed.Â The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Volume A The Middle AgesÂ 9thÂ ed. 6 vols. New York: NY, 2012. Print.
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. p.10-12. Barker, Kenneth L., gen. ed. Grand Rapids: MI, 2002. Print.