Grendel is a postmodern novel as well as prose poem modeled after the 6th century Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf, on which it is modeled. It is also an example of metafiction, a work of fiction based on another work of fiction.

Point of View

The narrator, the character of Grendel, uses the first person, conveying his inner thoughts and observations. Occasionally he narrates from the point of view of another character.


The title character attempts to maintain a satirical, mocking distance throughout the novel, but often finds himself slipping into an impassioned earnestness.


The novel is mostly written in the present tense, but with substantial flashbacks in Chapters 1–8.


Grendel is set during the 4th century CE in what is now the country of Denmark.


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.

Major Conflict

Grendel, the protagonist, 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.


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.