Main Ideas

Key Facts

Main Ideas 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.