Reality and Fictitious Representations in John Gardner's Grendel

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As seen throughout time, fighting and a lack of communication are known as an embodiment of a multitude of people and societies. Conflict is defined as the process of a disagreement or physical clash between two or more individuals or groups of distinctive values and beliefs. With the action of conflict, there would, for the most part, be the implementation of deception and falsifications that may confuse one side or the other. However, the idea of conflict may end in peace, but to get there would bring about a domino-effect journey of death, calamity, and anguish. The population may not always be supportive of this occurrence, but the sides are debated upon if those exact actions are necessary or not. John Gardner’s “Grendel”, primarily focuses on this theme of misunderstanding and misappropriating societal cultures. The narrator, Grendel, deals with an assortment of issues, while also plaguing his future with each interaction he has with the other side. Such as seen within society, it can be assumed that the character and his condemnations continue to affect himself emotionally and physically over an extended period of time.

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Before delving into the theme itself, one should understand the basis of the character and his relation to the human population. Grendel, considered to be a monster that resembles the shape, size, and appearance, of a bear, conflicted with the humans in his society for over a decade. The text revolves solely about the last year of this calamitous turmoil. From the pessimistic experiences with the humans, Grendel became fascinated with them and how they lived. He would watch them, learning from their ways of living, while the humans, in turn, continuously attempted to harm him and his habitat. From all of these advancements, Grendel learned how to deal with the conflict of deciding what is true and what is false. The issue proved to be that the position that he wants to be true is not the one most available to him at the time.

Throughout the various situational plots in the state, Grendel has seen two sides of the world that he resides within. One perspective is the adaption to a successful and harmonious state. On one hand he wants to believe the state that has been promoted by the Shaper, a blind old man who plays the harp in the meadhall. He also writes stories and decides how they get told. To Grendel the Shaper was also the anti-dragon and he had a love and hate relationship with him. At first Grendel is intrigued by the ability of the Shaper, but then when he hears his version of history, Grendel no longer likes him anymore. The Shaper was a powerful force of positivity that brings about the fictional belief that life is better than it seems, but understands that many of the respective representations are, in fact, fictitious and uncanny. The Shapers have attempted to manipulate the population on the grounds of establishing the society as a place that has no conflict, but consists of who believe in helping those who truly yearn for it. The Shaper had praised the notions of love, harmony, and peace, but throughout his experiences dealing with the human population, Grendel has begun to comprehend its many differences as well. The Shaper evidences the Dane population primarily as a society that had once understood the importance of heritage, while ensuring as well that their people would succeed by any means necessary.

As the Danes’ were praised highly by the Shaper, Grendel understood that their position was faulty and opposite to the fiction that was put out to support them. Grendel understood that the actions they were committing were not as beneficial to the population, but more detrimental and calamitous at best. This, in other words, meant the Danes had only believed in amassing power, which they would do by sheer force if necessary. He would then argue that the world, and society in itself, were unnecessarily meaningless and did not focus on the population itself. As uttered by Grendel in the text, “I understood that the world was nothing: a mechanical chaos of casual, brute enmity on which we stupidly impose our hopes and fears. I understood that, finally and absolutely, I alone exist” (Chapter 2, page 21-22). Grendel initially believed the stories of the Shaper, but in the second chapter faces a bull that opened his eyes to the real state of society that he embarked to explore. The bull represented the Danes in the moments that it charged towards Grendel at his time of weakness; unrelenting, despite the bear’s blinding pain and screams, the bull pulls at the flesh on Grendel’s leg. As the attacker continues, Grendel had an existential moment as it dawned on him that there was, theoretically, no use in trying to make his mark in a world that wasn’t paying attention to him. By committing itself to one course of action, this had shown Grendel a true relationship to the world that had no precise meaning. He does not want the reality of the Danes to be true, but he felt more available and cumbersome in the world offered to him by the Shapers. In this moment, he must embark on the difficult task of letting go of what is false in favor of what is true, albeit the task being easier said than done.

Society can be viewed through the perspective of helping and promoting the success of the population, or, as others argue, that it is only based on solely war. Grendel believed in the Shaper fictitious world of love and harmony, but understanding that calamity and anguish was more essential to him. The Shaper was able to provide this form of insight through song, which at several points in the text would actually entice Grendel to become emotional and cry. He may have wanted the fictitious world, but he understood how the Shaper misrepresented to him what is true and what is false. But perhaps it is the Shaper who is correct, and Grendel is the one who is incorrect in this situation. The Shaper promotes the belief of creating something in a void in which nothing resides; despite Grendel’s doubts, the Shaper’s existence suggests that there is the slim possibility that there is still hope for him, if only he decides to let go of the falsehoods and embrace the truth.

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