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Essential Themes In John Gardner's Grendel

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Pete Benck

Ms. Finnegan

AP Literature

28 October 2005

An Essential Theme in John Gardner's Grendel

In art museums, there are ageless paintings and sculptures. On the radio, classical music and classic rock is still played. These are some of today's ways of carrying on the past through art forms. The painter and the rock legend are artists immortalized through their works. The artists in Grendel are the Shaper and the court harper. Their singing of great men's deeds, no matter how inflated or even untrue, turns men and their deeds immortal. Single artists come and go, but those with a true talent will remain everlasting and will inspire others. As Grendel, the unwelcoming monster, stays stubbornly committed to nihilism, the Shaper shows him hope and purpose through song. Remarkably, Gardner gives us a pessimistic, flavorless main character throughout the novel and yet teaches the value of artistry through the Shaper's minor part.

In spirit, Grendel is a monster because he is filled with abhorrence. In the beginning of the novel, Grendel declares his hatred towards his surroundings. "The sky ignores me... Him too I hate, the same as I hate these brainless, budding trees, these brattling birds" (6). It seems that his addiction to hatred leaves Grendel impermeable to any outside guidance. Through mainly intimidation, Grendel never lets others communicate. His mother, for instance, is completely mute and riddled with anxiety in his presence. Grendel's stubborn ways begin to wane as the Shaper emerges. Before, Grendel never listened to anyone, he only talked to himself. "Talking, talking, spinning a spell, pale skin of words that closes me in like a coffin" (15). Then, the Shaper comes with his well-versed stories and Grendel is fascinated. Suddenly, it becomes apparent that emotion, communication and expression are the remedy to infinite sadness. As the Shaper plays for only Hrothgar at a distance, the powerful expression of his song lures Grendel out of hopelessness and into happiness. "My heart was light with Hrothgar's goodness, and leaden with grief at my own bloodthirsty ways" (48). The music makes such an impression on Grendel, because he



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