full title Grendel
author John Gardner
type of work Novel
genre Postmodern novel; prose poem; bildungsroman (novel about the growth of the protagonist)
time and place written 1969–1970; San Francisco
date of first publication 1971
point of view Grendel narrates in the first person, conveying his inner thoughts and observations; occasionally he narrates from the point of view of another character
tone Grendel attempts to maintain a satirical, mocking distance throughout the novel, but often finds himself slipping into an impassioned earnestness
tense Present, but with substantial flashbacks in Chapters 1–8
setting (time) The fourth century a.d.
setting (place) Denmark
major conflict Grendel struggles, within his own mind, to understand his place in a potentially meaningless world
rising action Grendel’s exposure to the opposing philosophies of the Shaper and the dragon provide him with two options of how to live in a world without inherent meaning or values: he can either try to create and assert his own meaning in the world or resign and accept the fact that such an endeavor is futile.
climax By engaging in a full-scale war with the humans, Grendel chooses to create a system of meaning for himself.
falling action Though warfare fulfills Grendel for a time, it soon becomes just as mechanical and empty as anything else. At this point, the only way out of Grendel’s trap is death.
themes Art as falsehood; the incompatibility of reason and emotion; the power of stories; the pain of isolation
motifs The seasons; the zodiac; machinery
symbols The bull; the corpse; Hart
foreshadowing The unresponsive ram foreshadows the unresponsive humans; the allusion to the curse of Cain foreshadows the charm of the dragon and the Christian imagery that surrounds Beowulf; the dark presence that Grendel feels in the woods and the snake he mistakes for a vine foreshadow his meeting with the dragon; the onset of winter foreshadows Grendel’s death.