Characterization of Grendel
In the epic, Beowulf, the author uses a tone of horror and literary devices such as alliteration, asyndeton, allusion, and imagery to emphasize Grendel’s, dark and terrible beginnings as an offspring of monsters of Hell and his gruesome murders to characterize him as a purely evil abomination.
Grendel is introduced as a demonic fiend born of the monster descendants of Cain in a Hell on earth. This introduction allows the reader to easily imagine Grendel as a horrible abomination and sets a tone of darkness and horror. Line 104 states that “[Grendel] was spawned of that slime.” The alliteration using words “spawned” and “slime” evoke vivid images of the dark, foul marsh in which Grendel was born and serves to emphasize his terrible beginnings as a product of pure evil. These hell-like beginnings parallel Grendel’s inward twisted evilness.
Within Grendel live many different forms of evil. The asyndeton “fiends, goblins, monsters, giants” in stanza 110 describe Grendel’s evil roots. Listing such horrible creatures allows the reader to create a physical and psychological picture of Grendel. Because such creatures are widely known and feared, readers are able to easily imagine the grotesque, gargoyle-like faces of each one of them and their evils. Grendel can be imagined as a horrifying construction of all of the monsters. Each of these horrible beings lives as a part of Grendel’s body and mind. As the product of all of these abominations, Grendel can be characterized as truly vile and the ultimate evil of all beings.
This is also shown by the allusion to Cain, who cold-bloodedly murdered his own brother, Abel, out of jealousy because he felt Abel was more favored by God than he was. Cain is considered evil for his murder of his brother, Abel, who was considered to be purely good. Cain was also an enemy of God. This juxtaposition emphasizes that Grendel is an evil creature from Hell. Grendel’s character also parallel’s Cain’s. He has the same evil nature as Cain and is also seemingly fueled by anger and hate. This is the reason both Cain and Grendel are murders. Grendel also seems to have another reason to murder. Lines 105-107 explain that Cain and all of his monster descendants were “banished/By God, punished forever for their crime/Of Abel’s death.” This reference reveals more evilness within Grendel. It seems that he also is fueled by a desire to take revenge on God by taking his anger out on mankind.
Since Grendel is an abomination born into exile as a result of his ancestor’s crime, killing is the only purpose in his life. As the spawn of evil, he is unable achieve any other purpose. However, Grendel will never feel satisfied. For Grendel “No savage assault quench his lust for evil. ” He indiscriminately kills Hrothgar’s men and even leaves a trail of “blood dripping behind him” as evidence as he returns to his marsh, “delighted with his night’s slaughter.” This strong use of imagery creates a disturbing picture of the murder scene. It emphasizes Grendel’s lack of remorse as he kills the men and his endless bloodlust thus proving that he is a purely evil creature.
Grendel was born purely evil and is only able to reach temporary satisfaction by murdering men. He harbors hate and vengefulness for mankind who fears him and God who punished him. Grendel’s existence is only due to a long chain of events caused by Cain’s evil act of murder. There is no good in him. He murders because of his bloodlust and hate, and he delights in it. Therefore, Grendel is a purely evil and horrifying creature.