What causes Grendel to attack the mead-hall Herot in Beowulf?

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Colin Cavendish-Jones, Ph.D. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The most obvious motive for Grendel's attack is envy and a sense of exclusion. He hears the laughter in the mead-hall, hates the Danes and their merry-making from which he is excluded, and resolves to kill them. Even slaughtering thirty does not satisfy him and he returns night after night to drown his misery in blood. Since he is always an outcast, however, the misery remains—no matter how many he kills.

I think, however, that this question and my answer above (as well as any other answers which invoke psychology and personality) would be equally incomprehensible to the poet or poets who composed Beowulf. For them and their audience, Grendel behaves monstrously because he is a monster: motiveless as a howling gale or a storm at sea. Grendel exists purely as an evil thing for the hero Beowulf to overcome. He attacks the mead-hall because the story demands that he should do so.

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Grendel and his mother are purported to be monstrous demons and the descendants of the biblical Cain, who murdered his brother, Abel, out of jealousy. Cain was punished by God and left to wander the earth forever in suffering with no way of alleviating his pain. The literal reason Grendel has for attacking Herot is that he hears the songs of King Hrothgar's bard, which tell of God's creation of the world, and the sounds all of the hall's inhabitants engaging in their joyous feast. Grendel despises these people for their happiness because, through circumstances beyond his control, he has been condemned to a life of suffering and despair in the shadows,...

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alexloser13 | Student

he attacks because the men were having fun and being loud in the hall, he got annoyed and when he went to check on them they were sleeping so he attacked

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