Seeking friends, they found enemies; seeking hope, they found hate. Social outcasts simply want to live as the rest of us live. Often, in our prejudice of their kind, we banish them from our elite society. Regardless of our personal perspective, society judges who is acceptable and who is not. Some of the greatest people of all time have been socially unacceptable. Van Gogh found comfort only in his art, and with a woman who consistently denied his passion. Edgar Allen Poe was considered “different” – to say the least. These great men, as well as Grendel and Frankenstein, do not “fit” into society. Also like these men, Grendel and Frankenstein are uniquely superior to the rest of mankind. Their superiority is seen through their guile to live in a society that ostracizes their kind, their true heroism in place of society’s romantic view, and the ignorance on which society’s opinion of them is formed.
Grendel, though he needs to kill to do so, functions very well in his own sphere. Grendel survives in a hostile climate where he is hated and feared by all. He lives in a cave protected by firesnakes so as to physically, as well as spiritually, separate himself from the society that detests, yet admires, him. Grendel is “the brute existent by which [humankind] learns to define itself”(Gardner 73). Hrothgar’s thanes continually try to extinguish Grendel’s infernal rage, while he simply wishes to live in harmony with them.
Like Grendel, Frankenstein also learns to live in a society that despises his kind. Frankenstein also must kill, but this is only in response to the people’s abhorrence of him. Ironically, the very doctor who bore him now searches the globe seeking Frankenstein’s destruction. Even the ever-loving paternal figure now turns away from this outcast from society. Frankenstein journeys to the far reaches of the world to escape from the societal ills that cause society to hate him. He ventures to the harshest, most desolate, most uninhabitable place known to man, the north pole. He lives in isolation, in the cold acceptance of the icy glaciers. Still, Dr. Frankenstein follows, pushing his creation to the edge of the world, hoping he would fall off, never to be seen or heard from again. Frankenstein flees from his father until the Doctor’s death, where Frankenstein joins his father in the perpetual, silent acceptance of death.
Comparing Grendel and Oedipus Rex
Parallels between Grendel and Oedipus Rex
A messenger hurriedly arrives at a palace to tell king Oedipus, that his father, Polybus, the king of another town, has died at an old age of natural causes. The message’s receptor and his queen, therefore, assume that Oedipus has escaped his fate as told by the oracle at Delphi that he should murder his father and marry his mother. There is reprieve of worry until it is revealed that the man who died was merely Oedipus’ adoptive father and that Oedipus had indeed once killed his father and was married to his mother. Oedipus was not the king of his fate.
“‘Pointless accident,’ not pattern, governs the world, says Grendel, who, as a consequence, adopts an existentialistic stance,” explains Frank Magill in Critical Review of Short Fiction. This point has been expressed in numerous critical papers by various essayists. One may wonder, however, whether this is the only way to interpret an incredibly ambiguous story in which no question is ever clearly answered nor clearly formulated. One may wonder, actually, whether the author meant for his work to be analyzed in this way at all. The author, John Gardner, spins a tale of a monster held viscously to his destiny of an unnatural death. No matter what Grendel does, his death is predetermined. Though he tries to disprove fate to himself by believing in existentialism, the belief that actions create the future, he never validates that point of view. John Gardner’s purpose in writing Grendel was to express that the future is completely unavoidable.
Grendel may be paralleled to Sophocles’ “Oedipus Rex” which describes the story of Laius and Jocasta, the king and a queen of Thebes, who are told by the oracle at Delphi that the fate of their newborn son is to someday kill his father and marry his mother. They believe that they can change that destiny by killing the child but their plan backfires when, unannounced to them, the child grows up far away and fulfills his destiny by eventually murdering Laius and marrying Jocasta, neither of whom he knows is his parent. “Oedipus Rex” is analogous to Grendel because in both stories the main character has a fate which is exceptionally clear but he simply does not believe it, quite on the contrary, he believes that his actions will create his future, but he is tragically mistaken.