Beowulf

Literature
Summary

Key Questions and Answers

Summary Key Questions and Answers

4) What is Grendel?

Grendel’s exact nature is left mysterious. We know that he is shaped like a man (“weres wæstmum,” [l.1352]), but so large that it takes four warriors to carry his head. He is a descendant of Cain, the Biblical figure cursed by God for the murder of his brother, and he is also a “mearc-stapa” (l.103), a “border-stepper.” Some readers have argued that Grendel symbolically represents the people displaced—exiled beyond the borders—by the violent crimes of Hrothgar and of Northern warrior society generally. Other readers have suggested that Grendel represents the unknowable threats that lie beyond the borders of human knowledge.