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Grendel: the Impersonation of Existential Philosophy
John Gardner starts by using Jean Paul Sartre’s existential philosophy to create the character of Grendel. John Gardner is interested in Sartre’s philosophy, which he thinks is “paranoid and loveless and faithless and egoistic and other nasty things” (Mason 102). His damaging perception of this philosophy colors the novel as Gardner portrays his thoughts by means of the monstrous narrator, modeled after Sartre, and attempts to expose philosophical difficulties relating to society’s acceptance of existentialism. Grendel’s “idiotic war” (Gardner five) starts as the “poor old freak” (6) encounters nature. Grendel feels “abandoned” by the planet, and those feelings correlate with Sartre’s “being-in-itself” argument. “The globe resists me and I resist the world…the mountains are what I define them as” (Gardner 28).
According to Sartre, a “being-in-itself” lacks a consciousness while a “being-for-itself” has consciousness and the ability to generate a private “essence” making use of this consciousness (Mason 102). For instance, Grendel perceives the mountains only via his consciousness or his personal definition. The mountains represent a “being-in-itself” whereas Grendel represents a “being-for-itself.” For that reason, Grendel’s attempts to connect with nature fail since Sartre’s philosophy does not let any sort of communication among the two beings. In addition, Gardner presents readers with an objection to existentialism.
Internally, Grendel convinces himself that alienation from society is required simply because he is a “pointless, ridiculous monster” and a “poor old freak” (Gardner 6). His feelings of insecurity contribute to thoughts of a meaningless world. Grendel holds total duty for these feelings due to the fact, according to Sartre, he creates his personal world by way of his consciousness. This is yet another factor of existentialism Gardner refutes, and in addition, he uses this instance to reference the common existentialist movement of society in the 1960’s. Gardner responds to these who alienated themselves after Globe War II and Vietnam stating that if 1 clings to existentialism, then an external predicament, or “being-in-itself,” ought to not incite feelings of despair only one’s person actions are cause for suffering and agony.
In addition, Gardner tends to make statements about the nature of existentialists. Through Grendel’s conversion from a humanistic character to a murderer, he shows that existentialism creates corruption and monstrosity in society (Mason 104). Also, Grendel “hammers the ground with [his] fists” (Gardner three) in frustration at the world and the society he constructs in his thoughts. His need for those about him to go beyond “staring at as much of the planet as he can see” (6) represents Gardner’s plea for society to look beyond their building of an absurd life. He believes his job as a writer is to “affirm the goodness of life and the badness of pondering you have got the complete answer” (Bellamy 21).
The next character infused with existentialism is the Dragon. The Dragon portrays an evangelist of existentialism, and Gardner hopes to inform readers of the unfavorable elements of succumbing to this philosophy. Gardner depicts the dragon as a negative, disturbing “beast” with “cold” eyes and a guarded collection of “gold, gems, and jewels” (Gardner 57). This positions the character as a materialistic, selfish, and greedy “old man” (58). He enables the readers to pass judgment on the Dragon, providing them the picture of an evil “miser,” (58) before revealing his vocal and intellectual traits. This initial judgment shows how society often gathers a narrow opinion with no true understanding of a scenario, or philosophy in this case. Gardner ascribes to the Dragon the voice of an “old old man” in order to address a stereotype about philosophers as becoming old fashioned and outdated. This also applies to the existential craze in America which becomes just as fascinating to Gardner as “boobies, hemorrhoids, [and] boils” (59).
The dragon influences Grendel to make a full existential conversion, showing how effortlessly thoughts are manipulated. Grendel begins the conversation with an attitude that he demands to leave humans alone, as effectively as abstain from scaring them “for sport” (Gardner 61). Even so, the Dragon refutes this attitude while claiming to “know everything,” (Gardner 61) and the character of Grendel rapidly accepts the Dragon’s vision of a meaningless universe (Ellis 48). As Grendel tends to make his “long dull fall of eternity” (Gardner 61) into existentialism, he loses admiration, beauty, and hope toward life, plunging further into the nothingness of existence. Grendel believes “stars, like jewels scattered in a dead king’s grave, tease, torment my wits towards meaningful patterns that do not exist” (Gardner 11). Grendel pushes himself away from the natural, divine beauty that lies in the stars and focuses on material “jewels” as nicely as his primitive desires.
The conversation in between Grendel and the Dragon emphasizes effortless deception and manipulation by those with questionable wisdom. The dragon communicates his philosophy like “an old man” although converting Grendel into a creature who believes that absolutely nothing of significance exists outside of the individual. The meaninglessness of life prophesied by the Dragon recognizes Gardner’s feelings about the limitations of existentialism and the people conforming to existentialism throughout the years prior to the 1971 publication of Grendel. Though these people have been faced with war, violence, and disillusionment, they cling to the well-liked movement with out believed or argument as to other possible explanations. In the same way, Grendel concedes to the Dragon with out resistance. The Dragon begins to handle each the metaphysical and physical functions of Grendel (Ellis 52). The Dragon’s philosophy matches that of the society Gardner satirizes, with thoughts that “things come and go” as well as the opinion that each and every occasion is just “a swirl in the stream of time” (70). On the other hand, Gardner supplies a answer repairing the issues found in existentialist philosophy. He offers society a new hope inside the character of the Shaper.
In John Gardner’s globe, the remedy for despair lies within the character of the Shaper. In the novel, the Shaper tells stories to the court, and these stories portray the warriors as victorious heroes. The Shaper’s poetry permits the people of Hrothgar’s kingdom to discover relief in the course of challenging instances of violence and destruction. The Shaper helps the kingdom prosper while advertising ideas of heroism and sacrifice (Winther 23). He sings of “a glorious meadhall whose light would shine to the ends of the ragged world” (Gardner 47). The Danes uncover a objective to reside from the severe and dignified poems about the beauty of men’s glory (Mason 105). “The Shaper comes along in a meaningless, stupid kingdom and makes up a rationale. He creates the heroism… he tends to make the people brave, and certain, it’s a lie, but it is also a vision” (105).
The Shaper promotes a way of life of courage and nobility, although the Dragon believes in meaninglessness and greed. Even though the Shaper’s vision is not an accurate account of the everyday activities of the Danes, it seduces Grendel with its energy and meaningful words (McWilliams 31). However, Grendel’s perception of the human’s lifestyle is diverse from that of the Shaper. This difference relates to John Gardner’s own fiction, which informs readers the importance of looking at a predicament from a new, previously unaddressed viewpoint. This re-affirms Gardner’s argument that society in the 1960’s pursues a philosophical trend with out questioning its ideas.
Throughout history, individuals have utilized art to make statements or respond to society. In Grendel, John Gardner takes the familiar story of Beowulf and permits many readers an chance to appear beyond one way of thinking into a new, previously unacknowledged point of view. Gardner is responding to the common trend of existentialism in the 1960’s, lead by Jean Paul Sartre, and he pleads for society to open their minds and genuinely learn other perspectives concerning life.
Bellamy, Joe David and Pat Ensworth. “John Gardner.” Conversations with John Gardner. Ed. Allan Chavkin. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1990. six-27.
Ellis, Helen and Warren Ober. “Grendel and Blake: The Contraries of Existence.” John Gardner: Vital Perspectives. Ed. Robert A. Morace and Kathryn VanSpanckeren. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1982. 46-61.
“Existentialism.” Oxford English Dictionary. 24 Apr. 2003 <http://www.oed.com>.
Gardner, John. Grendel. New York: Vintage Books, 1971.
Harvey, Marshall. “Where Philosophy and Fiction Meet: An Interview with John Gardner.” Conversations with John Gardner. Ed. Allan Chavkin. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1990. 84-98.
Mason, Kenneth. “Of Monsters and Men: Sartrean Existentialism and John Gardner’s Grendel.” Thor’s Hammer: Essays on John Gardner. Ed. Jeff Henderson. University of Central Arkansas Press, 1985. 101-110.
McWilliams, Dean. John Gardner. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1990.
Nutter, Ronald Grant. A Dream of Peace: Art and Death in the Fiction of John Gardner. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., 1997.
Winther, Per. The Art of John Gardner: Instruction and Exploration. New York: State University of New York Press, 1992.
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