I stamp. I hammer the ground with my fists. I hurl a skull-size stone at him. He will not budge. I shake my two hairy fists at the sky and I let out a howl so unspeakable that the water at my feet turns sudden ice and even I myself am left uneasy.
With this description, the author introduces Grendel as he rages at the ram standing on the cliff. From the beginning, readers see that Grendel appears more monster than human, with “hairy fists” and the inability to control his emotions. However, the fact that he seems aware enough to be “uneasy” at his own behavior shows the self-awareness that plays a key role in his identity.
Thus I fled, ridiculous hairy creature torn apart by poetry—crawling, whimpering, streaming tears, across the world like a two-headed beast, like mixed-up lamb and kid at the tail of a baffled, indifferent ewe—and I gnashed my teeth and clutched the sides of my head as if to heal the split, but I couldn’t.
After Grendel hears the Shaper sing for the first time, he feels consumed by his awe of the poetry even though he knows the Shaper’s account of history to be untrue. The contrast of Grendel’s frightening appearance and his childlike emotions shows that he does share qualities with humans in that he has the ability to appreciate art, unlike the other monsters around him.
And yet I’d be surprised, I had to admit, if anything in myself could be as cold, as dark, as centuries old as the presence I felt around me.
As Grendel listens to the Shaper sing about peace and hope in the world, he feels drawn to the ideas, but he also feels enraged because he knows how meaningless life is. However, Grendel does not think he is as evil as the world itself. Even though Grendel may be a monster who torments and eats people, he, like most humans, would like to believe his life holds value.
You improve them, my boy! Can’t you see that yourself? You stimulate them! You make them think and scheme. You drive them to poetry, science, religion, all that makes them what they are for as long as they last. You are, so to speak, the brute existent by which they learn to define themselves.
Here, the dragon tells Grendel the ultimate meaning of his existence. Rather than living to help others or befriend humans, Grendel produces fear in others that causes them to achieve loftier goals. For example, the Shaper tells history through poetry that even Grendel finds beautiful, even though Grendel himself plays the role of the enemy in that poetry. While Grendel would like his fate to bring him happiness, he exists solely to act as an enemy to humans.
She was beautiful, as innocent as dawn on winter hills. She tore me apart as once the Shaper’s song had done.
Here, Grendel reacts to seeing Wealtheow for the first time. As he was emotionally undone by the Shaper’s poetry, he is also in awe of Wealtheow’s beauty, a beauty in stark contrast to his own hideous appearance. Grendel’s appreciation of the beauty in the world shows that he does not quite believe life is meaningless and is only full of suffering.