Grendel Chapter 3: A Global Analysis

In John Gardner’s novel Grendel, Gardner provides critique and commentary on many contemporary issues through not only the complex characterization of Grendel, but also the actions of characters within the ever-changing environment. In Chapter 3 specifically, Gardner focuses on the global issues of Culture and Power by utilizing Grendel, an outsider of society, to criticize the modern culture of idolization and how power is more often than not just an empty, meaningless title.

Evidence of this can be found in page 52, where the Shaper is described to have been “thinking up formulas for what to say next”. Here, Gardner is suggesting the fact that the tales of the heroes are merely manufactured for a certain purpose; in this case, to entertain and inspire other warriors/heroes. However, because these tales are fictional, the validity of said heroes’ actions are put into question. Therefore, if all the stories of heroes are all fables, what *really* constitutes a hero in Grendel’s world? It is later on in page 54, where Grendel comes to the realization that not only are humans lying to themselves about their own heroic deeds, but are actually indeed just as monstrous as he is. All this time Grendel had been looking for a connection to human characteristics, but all he found was that the humans were not the perfect image he sought to become. Instead, they were violent, erratic, and absolutely wasteful.

Taking Grendel’s critique on the falsehood of heroism, we can apply this towards the modern day issue of idolization in modern media and society. It seems that with the rise of modern technology and social media, even the most remote and extreme individuals are able to garner a platform to support their views. It was commonplace and still is that “social idols” often obtain their celebrity and idol status rather infamously, and still despite that, thousands–if not millions–still perceive them as a role model. As Gardner puts it within his novel, the question that is directly quite pointedly to our culture is that “if these are the types of people that our society values, how does that reflect the core principles of our community?”

Grendel and Mental Health

The expression of contrasting emotions found within “Grendel” is what makes internal conflict such an integral part of the story. Focusing on the ‘contrasting emotions’ aspect, Grendel’s situation closely mirrors the modern day issue of mental health and the stigma that surrounds it. Like many today, Grendel struggles with his identity as his subconscious is torn between two realities, whether he likes it or not. Specific examples that are often overlooked nowadays are those struggling with bipolar disorder, a mental disorder that is commonly linked with depression and anxiety. Earlier in the novel, Grendel acts erratically and irrationally, first screaming at the world before sarcastically crying in a pool of his own pity. These are the obstacles that those with bipolar disorder must face on a daily basis (as Grendel does): switching from periods of intensified high to periods of crippling depression. Unfortunately, as these individuals are unable to control their emotions, they lose their identity and ultimately shutting them outside of society, hence the stigma around mental health. Grendel is also a victim of such ostracism, as evident from the isolation that Grendel experiences and the angst that emerges from such.