Gardner’s novel is primarily a character study of the monster Grendel and the men who live in fear of him. Through the eyes of the monster, Gardner offers his readers an assessment of the human condition; the picture is not always nice and is in fact more often a scathing commentary on the essentially animalistic qualities that persist in men even as they delude themselves into thinking that they have risen above the beast.
Since Grendel tells his own story, the reader is allowed great insight into the loneliness that the monster feels as he tries to communicate with men. Grendel possesses superhuman strength, and though his size is never specified, he is clearly gargantuan: He is capable of seizing and tearing apart the warriors who oppose him and, with cannibalistic delight, devouring them. This same creature whose behavior strikes terror into the hearts of Hrothgar’s thanes is, nevertheless, also capable of relatively subtle thought; his commentaries on the way that men treat one another show that he understands what mercy, charity, love, hate, and revenge mean. Additionally, he possesses an existentialist view of the world, musing on more than one occasion that all that happens is merely accidental; there is no god prompting the actions of men or monsters, or giving purpose to the world.
Because this is a first-person novel, the reader’s impression of the other characters is colored by the descriptions offered by Grendel. Hrothgar...
(The entire section is 553 words.)