By comparing the Anglo-Saxon’s beliefs and attitude with Grendel’s, one can see that Grendel develops a nihilistic view as a way to, emotionally, protect himself. In order to understand why Grendel was rejected, one must consider the society’s values and where he was coming from. Grendel spent most of his time his time observing the Anglo-Saxon society yet he did not have the same attitude towards their values as them, so they reject him. Part of the Scyldings’s culture was to fight neighboring kingdoms to protect their kingdom.
As a peace offering, the neighboring king gave Hrothgar, the king of the Scyldings, his sister. This was not an odd offering as Hrothgar willingly accepted her but Grendel did not understand: “My chest was full of pain, my eyes smarted, and I was afraid—O monstrous trick against reason—I was afraid I was about to sob. I wanted to smash things, bring down the night with my howl of rage” (Gardner, 100). To Hrothgar, receiving the woman was simply part of a business transaction, but to Grendel it was disgusting.
Grendel’s mixed emotions reveal that he cares about others but also doesn’t understand why some traditions are acceptable. Similarly, when Beowulf is talking about fighting Grendel, he talks about his God’s role in the fight. He points out that “God can easily halt these raids and harrowing attacks” (Beowulf, 478-479). Not only does the reference to God convey that the members of their society put much faith in their God but also confusion as to why their God would punish them by creating monsters to attack them.
Both instances offer examples of people putting faith in a higher power to do the right thing but lose confidence in them and become conflicted. The higher power lets the people down, revealing conflicting values, which can be a result of lack of communication. Not only do Grendel and the Anglo- Saxons have different values, they also have no way to communicate, which would enable them to find a common ground and understand where each other is coming from. During one of Grendel’s raids, he faced Unferth, and attempted to be witty as he challenged him.
Unferth did not understand, even as Grendel repeated himself louder and slower, but “even [then] he didn’t know what [Grendel] was saying” (Gardner, 83). While Grendel did not have good intentions, his motives were unclear to Unferth and the other humans as he tried to speak to them. Although Unferth did not need to ask what Grendel was planning on doing, the capability to communicate is clearly lacking. An outside source could be of help. The Shaper, a man who tells stories of the past, was telling a story that Grendel already knew of yet had a different viewpoint as to what happened.
As Grendel listened, he explained, “The man had changed the world, had torn up the past by its thick, gnarled roots and had transmuted it, and they, who knew the truth, remembered it his way—and so did I” (Gardner, 43). Grendel knows the “real story” but that doesn’t matter because the Shaper was so convincing that Grendel had this feeling that the Shaper was right. Grendel also said that he wasn’t the only one who remembered the story differently, but they, too, believed it happened as the Shaper said.
This one, minor incident shows that Grendel and the Anglo-Saxons are capable of agreeing, it’s just a matter of finding someway—or someone—to communicate to each other. This lack of understanding leads to Grendel being rejected from their society. Even though Grendel is rejected, he still wants to be a part of their society, even if he acts like he doesn’t care. Being shunned was not something that only happened to Grendel. It is part of the Anglo-Saxon way to get rid of those who are not seen as fit for their society. An old teacher was talking to Hrothulf, Hrothgar’s son, about how their system works. Explaining the order of importance of certain groups of people, he said, “Rewards to people who fit the System best…till you come to the people who don’t fit at all. No problem. Drive them to the darkest corners of the kingdom, starve them, throw them in jail or put them out to war” (Gardner, 118). As the quote explains, those who don’t fit, do not belong in their society. From the old teacher’s words, it is clear that they don’t care what happens to them, just as long as they are not around those who truly fit “the System”.
Likewise, while the Scyldings knew that Grendel had been tormenting other groups nearby, they were not worried because they believed “Grendel waged his lonely war…but the throne itself, the treasure-seat, he was kept from approaching; he was the Lord’s outcast” (Beowulf, 168). The Anglo-Saxons thought that everything was the way it was because of their Lord. While they understood that Grendel mostly acted out simply because he was lonely, they continued to ignore him, calling him an outcast because he didn’t fit into their society like “the System” described.
Regardless, he still wanted to be a part of their society, seen in his view of them. Grendel went to the Dragon in hopes that he would be able to explain the Scyldings values to him, to better fit in. Instead, the Dragon tried to convince him that it was good for them to be scared of Grendel because it was part of their purpose in life. Grendel considered the Dragon’s advice, reasoning, “Fill their nights with nightmares, just for sport” (Gardner, 60). While Grendel had his reasons—needing to eat to survive or wanting to have a role in their society—for his actions, that was as far as he would go.
When the Dragon told him to scare them for fun, it conflicted with his morals because he knew it would destroy any hope of fitting in. Both sides had some morals and values they took into consideration when it came to dealing with each other. Unfortunately, both of them were not on the same page, so while Grendel was trying his hardest to fit in, the Anglo-Saxons were doing everything in their power to keep him out. After Grendel talks to the Dragon, he begins to see the world in two different ways. The first way Grendel sees the world is how he has since he was a child, full of wonderful possibilities.
It is this side that clings to the slightest chance that everything will work out and he will finally be accepted. On the other hand, there is a dark side to him that only wants to destroy their whole society and live alone. These two sides often collide, especially when Grendel is in contact with the members of the society. For example, Grendel was about to tear the Queen apart when he stopped. After promising that nothing would change his mind, he changed his own mind: “It would be meaningless killing her. As meaningless and letting her live” (Gardner, 110).
Grendel’s split beliefs are seen as he sways back and forth when considering how to act. Although part of Grendel pretends not to care what the Anglo-Saxons think of him, their belief that “Behavior that’s admired is the path to power among people” (Beowulf, 24-25) clearly sticks with him as he chooses to do the right thing and leave her be, even if he tells himself that she will be more likely to suffer while living. It is this half nihilistic view that drives Grendel to continue to search out the purpose in life and to see if he will ever be accepted by the members of the Anglo-Saxon society.
Society chooses a value so that the members feel as if they have a purpose and would rather not question if there really is a purpose. When one does decide to question, society rejects them and they become an outcast. As an outcast, one may waver between believing themselves and society, causing one to act out. Eventually, reality sets in and one must accept one’s fate. While one may not seem to care after a period of time, one may actually still be clinging to any hope of acceptance into society, the source of their will to live.