The monster Grendel is the ironic eye through which the action is viewed and from this perspective he provides the reader with never-ending examples of buffoonery and self-parody. Often his claims reveal the Sartrean component in his makeup: “I create the whole universe, blink by blink”(Gardner 22). Gardner,of course,wants to make a point here about solipsism. There is more to the objective world than Grendel’s ego. Naturally the universe still exists when Grendel closes his eyes. Likewise, when Grendel says “I observe myself observing what I observe”, (Gardner 29) ,he reminds us of Sartre’s view of the self-reflective nature of consciousness. As he said in his interview, Gardner planned to parody Sartre’s ideas in Being and Nothingess in these sections of the novel.
When Grendel says “then I am not that which observes! I am lack. Alack. “(Gardner 29) he plays on the French verb manquer(to lack) that Sartre uses in his description of the lacking quality of consciousness. This ability to observe his observing is a clue to the philosophical underpinnings of the early chapters. Gardner’s irony should be crystal clear–Grendel is amusing himself with Sartre’s phenomenology.
Now what is the reader to make of all this? A brief summary of Sartre’s description of consciousness may help. According toSartre man exists on the level of being-in-itself(as a body in a world of objects) and on the level of being-for-itself(consciousness ). The key to understanding Grendel’s view of the world is this distinction between the in-itself and the for-itself.Since, for Sartre, being-in-itself is uncreated(he can find no evidence of a creating God) and superfluous(“de trop”), it reveals itself as a sort of absurd, meaningless outer reality. But being-for-itself, on the other hand, is the awareness that consciousness is not the being of the in-itself. Its being is revealed in a more paradoxical way– as an emptiness in the center of being. How can it be aware of itself as an object?Impossible says Sartre. Simply put, the for-itself is the absence or the lack(thus Grendel’s “lack”) of the objectness of the in-itself . It reveals itself as the nothingness that remains when you realize that your consciousness is not an awareness of an object(such as your body), but rather an awareness of the lack of an object; or,to put it another way, it is an awareness of a nihilated presence.Grendel is proof that only an
Free Grendel Essays: Social Commentary
Authors often have to choose between concentrating on either plot or social commentary when writing their novels; in John Gardener’s Grendel, the plot becomes is a secondary consideration. Grendel’s exploits provide the reader with a clear understanding of the strong opinions the author carries and can be seen clearly as a narrative supporting nihilism in its many forms. The reader easily perceives the blatant religious subtext in the guise of corrupt priests and the foolish faithful. The notion of the old being wise is unacceptable to Gardener along with any notion of hero idolization. Within his novel, Gardner expresses his views concerning religion, wisdom and nature.
Religion plays a large role in Grendel. Priests do not want to perform their services without the proper payment, which, in turn, allows the rich the most access to ‘religion’ and God. The citizens of the village are also confusingly polytheistic and monotheistic. When praying to their king god does not decrease the frequency of Grendel’s visits, they retreat to begging any god of which they have known for help. This reveals their faith to be not faith at all but rather faith that will remain faith as long as it can be proven. A proven religious faith is contradictory term, for it can only be placed in a religion that cannot be proven lest it is true faith no longer.
Grendel’s interludes with the dragon portray, at their onsets, the dragon as a worldly, wise creature with much to share. The dragon haughtily informs Grendel about his vast store of knowledge as he teases him with how much he knows. As Grendel’s interests are piqued, the dragon expends the cumulative result of his travails: “Know how much you’ve got, and beware of strangers…My advice to you, my violent friend, is to seek out gold and sit on it” (Gardner page #). Although the dragon serves as a vessel to point out the necessity of Grendel and makes some pointed observations about mankind, all his respectability is lost with those two short sentences. The author is making an observation about materialism and the falsehood of wisdom always accompanying age. After all his years of intense scrutiny, the dragon can only grasp from human- and animalkind alike that possessions are the key to life’s existence.
Nature against society is also discussed in Grendel. The fact that citizens surrounded with religion and social status could be so easily overtaken by nature (Grendel) gives a sense of irony to the reader.