Beowulf

Grendel’s Mother

Grendel’s mother, like her son, is a mysterious humanoid creature. She enters the poem as an “avenger” (l.1258), seeking redress for the death of her son at Beowulf’s hands. For this reason, some readers have seen Grendel’s mother as an embodiment of ancient Northern European society’s tendency toward unending blood-feuds. Other readers have suggested that she represents the suffering of women under the bloodfeud system. Before Grendel’s mother attacks, we hear the story of Hildeburh, a princess who loses all her male relatives because her brother’s family is feuding with her husband’s. However, Grendel’s mother is by no means only an embodiment of blood-feuding and its failures. She lives in a “mere” (l.1362) whose bottom “has never been sounded by the sons of men” (l.1367). Many readers have seen the mere as powerfully symbolic of the human subconscious, or of the mysteries that lie beyond human knowledge. To these readers, Grendel’s mother represents the dangers that await anyone who seeks to confront the unknown, either in the world or in themselves.