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Published: 16-09-2019

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Grendel’s Solipsism and Its Consequences

In 1971, John Gardner changed the way men and women think about the English epic Beowulf when he published his novel Grendel. In his retelling of the story from the monster Grendel’s viewpoint, he repeatedly tends to make references to the philosophy of solipsism: the belief that one’s self is the only point that exists and matters. As Gardner’s narrative progresses, Grendel’s solipsistic perspective proves to be precisely the trait that leads him to commit awful and sometimes evil acts.

In the starting of the novel, as Grendel sets the stage and explains how his battle with the Scyldings began, he also establishes his solipsism. He states that he, “understood that the globe was practically nothing: a mechanical chaos of casual, brute enmity on which we stupidly impose our hopes and fears. I understood that, finally and absolutely, I alone exist. All the rest, I saw, is merely what pushes me, or what I push against, blindly — as blindly as all that is not myself pushes back. I create the complete universe, blink by blink” (22). This is a classic outline of solipsism. Grendel believes that the rest of the world he can see and interacts with only exists in relation to himself. In this way, the Danes only exist to supply Grendel with an enemy or with amusement and relief from his boredom. Grendel also believes that he has the power to control what exists around him, altering things into what he wants them to be by will of his thoughts. He says, “The mountains are what I define them as.” (28).

However, solipsism becomes a harmful life philosophy when it comes to how one particular interacts with others. Simply because solipsists believe that no a single outdoors themselves actually exists or matters, they can reason that their actions against others have no consequences. In regards to other folks, Grendel says, “The planet is all pointless accident,” (28) and “all that I do not see is useless, void.” (29). Because Grendel believes these items to be true, it does not appear morally wrong for him to torture and kill humans. After all, to him they do not truly exist. It is morally acceptable to Grendel to terrorize them for his personal achieve and amusement because he is the only issue that truly exists in the globe. Consequently, can we actually hold Grendel accountable for things that he did while only ever being aware of and believing in a branch of philosophy that tells him it is not morally incorrect to do this?

In Chapter 7 of the novel, Grendel for the 1st time stops short of an evil act when he leaves Wealtheow alive right after attacking her and intending to murder her. Grendel acts morally, leaving her alive simply because Wealtheow challenges Grendel’s solipsism, which is what leads him to commit immoral acts. In contrast to the belief that only oneself exists, Wealtheow is the image of selflessness, placing others just before herself. Wealtheow has willingly agreed to marry her brother’s enemy in order to save her own men and women. She acts with kindness towards Hrothgar’s men and women, even serving them in their meadhall. Her actions confuse Grendel and, though subconsciously, cause him to doubt his own beliefs. This is why he makes it possible for her to reside, even though solipsism tells him that her life does not matter.

In the final stages of the novel, Grendel is forced by Beowulf to reject his solipsism. Soon after Beowulf slams his head into a wall, forcing him to admit that the wall exists outdoors of him and that he did not generate it, Grendel says, “Every rock, every single tree, every crystal of snow cries out cold-blooded objectness…I understand” (172). In his final moments, Grendel accepts that his solipsistic view of the globe is incorrect. He is aware that everything and everyone he has encountered all through his life truly does exist. He says, “Animals collect about me, enemies of old, to watch me die. I give them what I hope will seem a sheepish smile” (173). Now that Grendel has rejected solipsism and understands the existence of these around him, he has a chance to realize morals and to not act as a monster. Even so, due to the fact Beowulf has torn off his arm, it is also late for Grendel.

The motif of Grendel’s solipsism seems repeatedly throughout the novel, providing the reader a way to understand why Grendel commits the horrendous acts he does. This is essential to the novel, since a single of the major factors the novel aims to do is turn a character who was previously noticed only as a villain into one towards whom people can be sympathetic. Readers recognize that Grendel’s solipsism is what causes him to lack a moral compass, giving more insight into the iconic character from Beowulf.
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