The shifting styles, particularly those that appear in parentheses, also illustrate Grendel’s constantly shifting and perpetually divided mental state. Although Grendel has visited the dragon and continues to be influenced by the creature, he has not fully accepted the dragon’s nihilistic teachings. Grendel is struggling to justify this nihilism against the emotional response he feels toward the lovely, inspiring Wealtheow. Grendel is fully aware of his divided state, and often uses parentheticals to undercut his own words:
I changed my mind. It would be meaningless, killing her. As meaningless as letting her live. It would be, for me, mere pointless pleasure, an illusion of order for this one frail, foolish, flicker-flash in the long dull fall of eternity.
By framing his philosophical justification as a “quote,” Grendel pulls us out of the present moment and forces us to consider the possibility that he does not really mean what he says. Earlier in the chapter, however, Grendel tells us that killing the queen would have meaning: it would be “the ultimate act of nihilism.” Killing the queen, thereby killing all the love and altruism that she inspires, would mean that Grendel will have finally chosen the dragon—a choice that he is not, at this point, quite ready to make.
Wealtheow, in addition to being an alternative to the dragon (a theme mirrored by the ruling sign of Chapter 7—Libra, the Scales), is the only significant female in the Danish community. Though Wealtheow is awe-inspiring in her beauty and comforting in her kindness, Grendel sees her less as an individual woman and more as representative of the state of all women—as he makes clear when he compares Wealtheow to his own wretched mother and finds little essential difference. In many ways, Wealtheow is little more than an epic poet’s stock vision of an ideal woman. She performs all the social functions of a proper queen: she is lovely and mannerly, and she brings balance to her community while rarely expressing needs of her own. Wealtheow is never shown with female companions, which underlines her function in this patriarchal society: she exists to articulate relationships between men. From the outset, Wealtheow is a gift from Hygmod to Hrothgar; later, in Hart, she finds herself shuttling among the Scylding thanes, making peace and fostering harmony. Wealtheow is even named in honor of her duty to the men of her world: she is a “servant of common good.” Grendel finds this idealized image of women just as seductive as the Danes do, but he breaks that illusion when he storms the hall and exposes Wealtheow’s sex organs. To the misogynistic Grendel, Wealtheow’s genitals are proof of the ugliness that resides within all women. By concentrating on this terrible image, then, Grendel finds he can resist Wealtheow’s temptations.