I understood that the world was nothing: a mechanical chaos of casual, brute enmity on which we stupidly impose our hopes and fears. I understood that, finally and absolutely, I alone exist. All the rest, I saw, is merely what pushes me, or what I push against, blindly—as blindly as all that is not myself pushes back.
Grendel has this revelation while the bull attaks him in Chapter 2. The bull assails Grendel mindlessly, never changing its tactics even though it is getting nowhere with its assault. Grendel suddenly realizes that the world is just like the bull—mindless and destructive without any discernible plan or reason. Any attempt to determine such a plan or pattern in the world is a misguided effort, reflecting more the desire of the seeker to find such a pattern than the actual existence of such a pattern. Grendel’s revelation has a second component as well, which he phrases as “I alone exist.” Clearly, as Grendel is undergoing a brutal attack as he makes this assertion, he does not literally mean that everything else in the world is just an airy figment of his imagination. Rather, it is, for Grendel, a means to organize the way he perceives the world. While he once saw the world as a frightening mass of images, now he can separate the world into categories—namely, Grendel and not-Grendel.
This revelation marks the transition between Grendel’s innocent, ignorant childhood and his adulthood as a student of philosophy. Having come to understand the world as a pitiless chaos that fails to provide a moral code or ethical system to guide his actions, he begins to question how he should live his life. This moment also marks a transition into adulthood in the sense that it causes a split between Grendel and his mother. Earlier, Grendel has understood himself as part of his mother, not as an individual being in his own right. When he is stuck in the tree, he looks for his mother to emerge from the shadows around him. If he sees her, then he believes the madness and confusion he sees will return to a sense of order. Grendel’s mother never arrives, however, forcing Grendel to accept the responsibility of creating order himself.