In Beowulf, do you find Grendel to be sympathetic?

Some readers may find Grendel completely unsympathetic for his monstrous violence, yet others may be able to sympathize a bit with his lonely existence and miserable death.

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This is a question that each reader will have to determine for himself or herself, but we can brainstorm possible answers by looking at Grendel from Beowulf in various ways.

First, let's look at him as an unsympathetic character. Grendel is, after all, a monster. He attacks Heorot over and over again and eats people. He terrorizes the Danes, who cannot stop these attacks no matter what they do. He has reduced Hrothgar and his men to powerlessness, robbing them of their glory and their peace. Grendel is fierce and greedy, savage and cruel. He sneaks in when the Danes are sleeping and carries them off, not even giving them the opportunity to fight back. Grendel is indeed a violent, evil creature.

Now let's think about any ways in which Grendel might be even a little bit sympathetic. The poet identifies him as a descendent of Cain, cursed to wander outside the company of human beings. Grendel wanders the moors, constrained to live in the deserted fen away from others, except for his mother (who is a monster in her own right). He sees the joy and prosperity of Heorot. He hears the singing and imagines the camaraderie of the warriors and their king. Yet he cannot share in it. This deprivation raises a hot envy in Grendel. If he cannot have such comforts and happiness, then the Danes will not have them either.

Further, we perhaps cannot help but feel just a little bit sorry for Grendel in his encounter with Beowulf. Grendel has never met anyone like Beowulf before. The latter has a superhuman strength, and he decides that, to be fair, he will not use any other weapons against Grendel than his own two hands, since that's all Grendel has. Yet that is enough for Beowulf. He grabs onto Grendel's arm and won't let go. Grendel tries desperately to free himself and gets away only by leaving his arm behind. He retreats to his lair to die a miserable death.

Yet some would argue that Grendel has gotten exactly what he deserves for his deeds of violence and his eager consumption of human flesh. Readers, therefore, must decide from themselves if Grendel is sympathetic or not.

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