GRENDEL & FRANKENSTEIN AN ANALYSIS OF THE TWO “MONSTERS” AND THEIR SUPERIORITY TO MANKIND GRENDEL & FRANKENSTEIN AN ANALYSIS OF THE TWO “MONSTERS” AND THEIR SUPERIORITY TO MANKIND In the desert I saw a creature, naked, bestial, Who, squatting upon the ground, Held his heart in his hands, And ate of it. I said, “Is it good friend?” “It is bitter-bitter,” he answered; “But I like it Because it is bitter And because it is my heart.” -Stephen Crane This reflects how both Grendel and Frankenstein must have felt during their lonely lives. “Seeking friends, the fiends found enemies; seeking hope, they found hate”(Neilson back page). The monsters simply want to live as the rest of us live. But, in our prejudice of their kind, we banish them from our elite society. Who gave society the right to judge who is acceptable and who is not? A better question might be, who is going to stop them? The answer, no one.
Therefore, society continues to alienate the undesirables of our community. Some of the greatest minds of all time have been socially unacceptable. Albert Einstein lived alone and rarely wore the same color socks. Van Gogh found comfort only in his art, and the woman who consistently denied his passion. Edgar Allen Poe was “different” to say the least.
Just like these great men, Grendel and Frankenstein do not conform to the societal model. Also like these men, Grendel and Frankenstein are uniquely superior to the rest of mankind. Their superiority is seen through their guile to live in a society that ostracizes their kind, their true heroism in place of society’s romantic view, and the ignorance on which society’s opinion of them is formed. Grendel, though he needs to kill to do so, functions very well in his own sphere. Grendel survives in a hostile climate where he is hated and feared by all. He lives in a cave protected by firesnakes so as to physically, as well as spiritually, separate himself from the society that detests, yet admires, him.
Grendel is “the brute existent by which [humankind] learns to define itself”(Gardner 73). Hrothgar’s thanes continually try to extinguish Grendel’s infernal rage, while he simply wishes to live in harmony with them. Like Grendel, Frankenstein also learns to live in a society that despises his kind. Frankenstein also must kill, but this is only in response to the people’s abhorrence of him. Ironically, the very doctor who bore him now searches the globe seeking Frankenstein’s destruction. Even the ever-loving paternal figure now turns away from this outcast from society. Frankenstein journeys to the far reaches of the world to escape from the societal ills that cause society to hate him. He ventures to the harshest, most desolate, most uninhabitable place known to man, the north pole.
He lives in isolation, in the cold acceptance of the icy glaciers. Still, Dr. Frankenstein follows, pushing his creation to the edge of the world, hoping he would fall off, never to be seen or heard from again. Frankenstein flees from his father until the Doctor’s death, where Frankenstein joins his father in the perpetual, silent acceptance of death. Frankenstein never makes an attempt to become one with society, yet he is finally accepted by the captain to whom he justifies his existence. Frankenstein tracks Dr. Frankenstein as to better explain to himself the nature of own being by understanding the life of his creator.
“Unstoppable, [Frankenstein] travels to the ends of the earth to destroy [his] creator, by destroying everyone [Dr.] Frankenstein loved” (Shelley afterword). As the captain listens to Frankenstein’s story, he begins to understand his plight. He accepts Frankenstein as a reluctant, yet devoted, servant to his master. Granted that Frankenstein does not “belong,” he is accepted with admiration by the captain. The respect that Frankenstein has longed for is finally given to him as he announces his suicide in the name of his father, the late Dr.
Frankenstein. On the other hand, Grendel makes numerous attempts to assimilate into society, but he is repeatedly turned back. Early in his life, Grendel dreams of associating with Hrothgar’s great warriors. Nightly, Grendel goes down to the meadhall to listen to Hrothgar’s stories and the thanes’ heroism, but most of all, he comes to hear the Shaper. The Shaper’s stories are Grendel’s only education as they enlighten him to the history of the society that he yearns to join. “[The Shaper] changed the world, had torn up its past by its thick gnarled roots and had transmuted it, and they, who knew the truth, remembered it his way- and so did [Grendel]”(Gardner 43).
Upon Grendel’s first meeting with Hrothgar, the great hero tries to kill him by chopping him out of a tree. “The king (Hrothgar) snatches an ax from the man beside him and, without any warning, he hurls it at [Grendel]”(Gardner 27). After being attacked by those he so admires, he turns against them to wreak havoc on their civilization. The more that society alienates Grendel and Frankenstein, the more they come to realize the invalidity of “social heroism.” As Grendel’s oppressors see it, heroism consists of the protection of one’s name, the greater glory of their line, and most of all, their armor collection. “Beowulf, so movingly compounded with self-vindication, looks to care for his own name and honour”(Morgan xxxi-xxxii). According to Frankenstein’s time, a hero is someone who protects their lady’s name, earns greater glory for themselves and their country, and has a large collection of prestigious degrees to hang on their walls.
Social heroism is not a single event, it is properly defined as a “revolution.” It is an on-going, ever-changing series of “heroic” events. This “revolution is not the substitution of immoral for moral, or of illegitimate violence for legitimate violence; it is simply the pitting of power against power, [hero against hero,] where the issue is freedom for the winners and enslavement of the rest”(Gardner 119). This revolution is built on intimidation by the powerful of society to oppress the undesirables. “Murder and mayhem are the life and soul of [the] revolution”(Gardner 118). This revolution is most evident in John Gardner’s Grendel.
In Hrothgar’s meadhall, his thanes are discussing the heroic revolution with the Shaper. According to the Shaper, the kingdom, those in power, pretends to be protecting the values of all people. Supposedly, the revolution causes the kingdom to save the values of the community-regulate compromise- improve the quality of the commonwealth. In other words, protect the power of the people in power and repress the rest [It] rewards people who fit the System best. The King’s immediate thanes, the thanes’ top servants, and so on till you come to the people that don’t fit in at all. No problem.
Drive them to the darkest corners of the kingdom, starve them, arrest and execute a few, or put them out to war. That’s how it works. (Gardner 118) In Grendel’s time, violence is the common denominator in all righteousness. “The incitement to violence depends upon total transvaluation of the ordinary values. By a single stroke, the most criminal acts may be converted to heroic and meritorious deeds”(Gardner 117). Certainly the only difference between appalling acts of violence and heroic deeds is the matter of who commits them. What might be appropriate for a king would be unheard of by a peasant.
This is obviously a social commentary that fits today as well, if not better, than it did then. The rich and powerful still succeed in oppressing the poor and helpless in every culture around the world. “If the Revolution [ever] …