Evil has no definitive interpretation; it is a matter of morals and the mindset of the being. It depends on the person to define such an ambiguous idea, some have faith in God(s), others look to dictionary definitions. Though based on Grendel’s intelligence and his repeatedly disgusting acts, he is evil. He is an astute being that can comprehend what kind of pain he creates by his ways, and he has no remorse for anything. Grendel’s actions are revolting, from ruining Wealhtheow, to killing harmless beings, to many spouts of unprovoked violence.
Most importantly, Grendel is a repulsive creature. He says that his hatred for Hrothgar is not from his original encounter with humans, so maybe his behavior is simply for no reason other than to ruin people’s lives. This is even worse than if it were for revenge; Grendel is acting for absolutely no reason at all. Aside from his conflicts with Hrothgar, his encounter with Wealhtheow was completely unprovoked and unnecessary. Not only had she never met him, but she had no part in the original confrontation between Grendel and humans.
A firm example in Grendel’s wickednes, “I decided to kill her. I firmly committed myself to killing her, slowly, horribly. I would begin by holding her over the fire and cooking the ugly hole between her legs. I laughed harder at that.” (Gardener, p.109) This proves that he gets joy from dehumanizing people. Unferth is yet another example, Grendel understands that Unferth wants to die. Instead of killing him, Grendel repeatedly torments Unferth by not allowing him to die or be the hero that he wishes to be.
Some may say that he is no worse than humans, and that’s not incorrect. There isn’t much of a difference between him and Hrothgar. “Pity poor Grengar, Hrothdel’s foe! Down goes the whirlpool: Eek! No, no!” (Gardener p.92) This stanza could be representing that Grendel and Hrothgar aren’t that different. Humans can be just as cruel as monsters; they wage war against each other, they kill for greed and power. Both Grendel and Hrothgar are weak, they act on their lack of being able to deal with their emotions.
As pointed out before, Grendel attacked Wealhtheow for no reason other than his incapability to deal with his feelings. Hrothgar feels threatened by the other cities, for if they rise to power, they could overthrow Hrothgar’s successful reign. However, Grendel’s actions aren’t in the mind of trying to improve anything for anyone else, he tore Unferth down mentally for fun. He attacked Wealhtheow for no reason. Hrothgar had some notion to better life for his people.
Arguably, those classified as heroes do the same things that monsters do. However, heroes regret when they hurt others, and there overall goal was to help someone. Hercules, for example, when Hera drove him insane and he killed his family. He spent years completing the 12 labors to atone for his murders. He felt a strong sense of regret, whereas monsters act purposefully and hurt for no reason with no other goal in their mind and feel no guilt. “Ah, sad one, poor old freak!” I cry, and hug myself, and laugh, letting out salt tears, he he? till I fall down gasping and sobbing, (It’s mostly fake.)” (Gardener, p.6) This is a perfect instance that shows Grendel does not actually regret his acts. He feels that he can justify his raunchy actions by gaining the readers sympathy, yet within himself he feels no remorse.
The dictionary definition of evil is “profound immorality, wickedness, and depravity, especially when regarded as a supernatural force.” (Oxford Dictionary) Grendel is a supernatural force that lacks any morals and is a truly revolting creature. He is overly violent when unnecessary, such as his violence towards the ram in the first chapter. He throws stones and screams at the ram, but the ram paid him no heed. Grendel has many characteristics similar to anger issues that could make the reader think that it’s just his nature to be violent. The first person point of view from Grendel shows all of the emotions he experiences. Any psychopath can cry, yet even Grendel believes that he is faking it. The only pity that he ever felt was for himself.
Gardener does a superb job on obtaining the sympathy for Grendel. He makes the reader feel sympathy by presenting Grendel’s thought process and showing him in his weakest points. By sharing the thought process of Grendel, it proves that he is an intelligent being capable of doing harm purposefully. Various times throughout the book, Grendel would think that it was in his right to kill something, as if there was no other choice. A prime example is on page 140 when Grendel is more or less confronted by a goat. He decides that it is his prerogative to force the goat to leave. He ends up killing the goat simply because the goat was following his animalistic senses. Grendel writes sadistically of this encounter saying “The air is sweet with the scent of his blood,” showing that there was no regret in Grendel’s mind.
Grendel is an intelligent creature that has the ability to distinguish right from wrong. He knows exactly what he is doing by his actions and what kind of horridness that he brings. Grendel is evil, in more than one way. He is still evil, even though he can cry, be afraid, and show his emotions. Murderers can fear their punishments, and they can cry about the situation they got themselves into. That doesn’t mean that they can’t be evil.