Study Guide

Grendel Injustice

By John Gardner


Gardner bases Grendel on the desire to give the monsters in Beowulf a voice they don't have in the poem. In a sense, the whole novel is an experiment in justice: finally, Grendel will get to tell his side of the story and reveal that things aren't as cut and dried as they may have seemed.

The novel is also a psychological experiment: what happens to our ability to judge when our understanding of what's good and evil is challenged? Gardner makes us feel "sympathy for the devil" by leading us into a mind-boggling exploration of what makes a person (or monster) evil in the first place—and by showing us how this process can or can't be controlled.

In the end, we have to determine whether or not Grendel has been done wrong—or whether he's the perp we've always thought him to be.

Questions About Injustice

  1. What does Grendel consider to be unjust about his situation in this novel?
  2. How does Gardner help us to reconsider our definitions of heroes and monsters in this work?
  3. In what ways does Red Horse's version of government seem more or less radical than Hrothgar's own governing style?
  4. How does Gardner complicate the death of the monster in this story?

Chew on This

Grendel is a victim of mankind's prejudice, and his destruction at the end of the novel truly is as "unfair" as he says.

Grendel's view of Hrothgar and mankind in general is as inaccurate as mankind's view of him.