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.