I had become something, as if born again. I had hung between possibilities before, between the cold truths I knew and the heart-sucking conjuring tricks of the Shaper; now that was passed: I was Grendel, Ruiner of Meadhalls, Wrecker of Kings!
But also, as never before, I was alone.
This passage occurs in Chapter 6, just after Grendel has bitten off the head of a Scylding guard, thus marking the beginning of his twelve-year war with Hrothgar’s Danes. For Grendel, taking this decisive step in creating his own identity is a liberating, empowering event. However, it is unclear exactly what Grendel has decided. On one hand, we might say that he has finally chosen the side of the “truths” that the dragon has passed down to him. In part, Grendel has decided to punish humans for their infuriatingly naïve belief in the righteousness of their moral systems—systems that Grendel knows have no foundation in any kind of universal moral law. On the other hand, Grendel has also chosen to accept the role the Shaper has set for him, as the humans’ ultimate nemesis. When Grendel refers to himself as “Ruiner of Meadhalls, Wrecker of Kings,” he replicates the Beowulf poet’s tendency to use a cluster of titles for a single character. Grendel once wished for the Shaper’s vision of an ordered, morally coherent world to be true, even if it meant he had to be the villain. It is difficult to tell, then, whether Grendel is taking the intellectual path the dragon has set out for him or the emotional road the Shaper wants him to follow. Perhaps it is because Grendel has reached only a nominal kind of resolution that he feels so unfulfilled. Furthermore, Grendel feels more alone than before because, with his act of symbolic aggression, he has severed the possibility of ever joining the humans in anything but an antagonistic relationship. He has accepted his role as the son of Cain, which brings him into the world of men while forever keeping him at a distance.