by: John Gardner

Key Facts

full title  · Grendel

author  · John Gardner

type of work  · Novel

genre  · Postmodern novel; prose poem; bildungsroman (novel about the growth of the protagonist)

language  · English

time and place written  · 1969–1970; San Francisco

date of first publication  · 1971

publisher · Knopf

narrator  · Grendel

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

protagonist  · Grendel

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.