In the story "Beowulf," is there any good to be found in the character of Grendel?  Why or why not?

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ophelious eNotes educator| Certified Educator

For me, the answer to this would be "not much."  Of course, it's subjective, isn't it?  Answering this question depends a lot on a person's definition of good.  Grendel's mother seems to like him.

As far as the "human" definition of good, I would have to say that Grendel does not have much in him.  Think about these quotes from the story, which describe Grendel as:

“[m]alignant by nature” and that he has “never show[n] remorse” (137).

By human standards, someone who is bad to the bone and feels no remorse for his bad acts is generally considered a bad dude.  Also consider that he likes to bust up the town and eat the people he kills.  And don't be confused by the movies...the story itself doesn't say exactly what Grendel is so PO'd about.

But I have to add this little kernel in Grendel's defense: his value system is different than ours.  Grendel is not human, and therefore is not bound by human definitions of "badness" and "goodness."  But it is thought that he's a descendant of Cain, and Cain was human, so there might be a bit of that still left in him.  We would have to better understand Grendel's motives for doing the things he did.  It isn't cannibalism to Grendel because he isn't a human.  And to Grendel, attacking humans with a vengeance might not be any different than us attacking a colony of wasps that have crossed us.

So, all and all, by human standards it doesn't look like Grendel has more than a drip of goodness to him.  But by hideous-swamp-monster standards, I am sure he's a prince.