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Grendel: Human or not?

Updated on August 23, 2017

Grendel is a Human

There are many ways in which people judge books. Most of the time, the characters are the main influential point. Characters can be humans, animals, and even other unknown creatures. This is the case in the Danish epic Beowulf. One of the main characters is a vague character. Grendel, the antagonist, does not have a distinct status as a human being, though based on his physical characteristics, emotions and relationships, and his ancestry Grendel is a human gone wild.

Essay for English class

This is an essay that my daughter wrote for an English project in 11th grade. She wanted to share it and hopes that you like it.

Grendel's physical appearance

Throughout the story, the narrator describes Grendel's physical appearance using human parts of the body. During his battle with Beowulf, "[he] suffered grievous pain; a gaping wound opened on his shoulder; the sinews sprang apart, the muscles were bursting." (L. 725) Also "Grendel's head was carried by the hair onto the floor", (L.1332) both these passages make references obvious to Grendel's human body parts. The mention of hair signifies Grendel's physical attributes as being human. Animals or monsters have fur, or wool, but not hair. Not only does Grendel have human body parts, but so does his mother. In the poem, during the battle with Beowulf at the bottom of the lake, "[she] drew her dagger", (L. 1237), to fight off Beowulf, a feat which could not be accomplished unless she had human hands. The use of a weapon, proves that Grendel's mother and her son were human because as humans, they use their intelligence and weapons instead of claws, teeth , and instincts, like an animal. The use of a weapon effectively supports that Grendel is a human. Furthermore, Grendel's mother had "a neck and [a]smashed vertebrae", (L. 1259). Again, these parts of the mother's body correspond to human parts. In addition to the parts mentioned above, footprints, a thumb, blood, and flesh refer Grendel and his mother in context. As Grendel nears the end of his life, Beowulf pays him a visit. Grendel is described as "lying on his death-bed", (L.1272). Lying on a death-bed indicates human form because only humans lie on beds. These aforementioned physical traits humanize Grendel and his mother.

Grendel's human-like emotions

In addition to Grendel’s physical characteristics, Grendel's emotions and relationships to the people around him amplify his humanism. For example, “grim and greedy, brutally cruel,” (L) describes Grendel at the beginning of the poem. Greed is not something that can consciously be felt by an animal, yet Grendel grasps that he is afraid. Being capable of this higher intelligence proves that Grendel is a human. Though all living creatures have emotions, human emotions manifest themselves most uniquely. Another of Grendel’s human emotion becomes evident when he “[is] seized with terror,” (L. 662) after finding out that Beowulf is stronger than any other man he has ever known. Terror, in this context, shows how Grendel’s human instincts are ingrained in his brain, and how they affect him. Grendel doesn’t solely have human emotions, he has human relationships too. For example, Grendel had a “kinswoman”, (L.1086) which exhibits Grendel’s tie to his mother, which is the human emotion of love. Love, an emotion which humans pride them of having, again, demonstrates Grendel’s humanity. Grendel’s mother in turn, returns Grendel’s gestures of love by “[returning] to avenge her son’s death”, (L.976). These types of close bonds are only apparent in human relationships. Grendel not only has a relationship with his mother, but with the people of the town which he ravages every night. This town has a law that says “The price set upon a man according to his rank could be claimed from the slayer by the relatives of a man wrongfully killed.”(L.129) also know as wergild. Grendel was expected to pay this wergild by the townspeople. How could the townspeople ask Grendel for money unless they thought him a competent human? It stands to reason that if Grendel was some type of animal or monster, the townspeople could not expect money from him to compensate for the deaths, nor would they expect for him to comprehend and abide by their law. In addition, Grendel called “hellish,”(L.94). Hell is a human creation for where bad people go. Hell received [Grendel] there” (L.761)Only if Grendel is a human can be go to hell because how can someone who is not human go to place for bad humans? The association with God shows that Grendel is in fact a human because of his connections with the human god. Grendel’s relationships and the emotions he displays during the story confirm that he is a human.

Grendel's Ancestry

Along with physical traits and emotions and bonds, Grendel’s ancestry clearly proves that he is a human. The human characteristics of Grendel’s mother make obvious her humanity. She goes on a journey to “avenge her son’s death” (L.976), which proves that Grendel’s mother has human emotions. Her emotions as well as her anatomy, as described in the previous paragraph, provide valuable information in confirming that her son is a human. Not only is his mother a human, but “The Creator had condemned him as one of the seed of Cain.” (L.86) As a descendent of Cain, who was a human, Grendel would also, by logic, be a human. Grendel’s father “[is] a fiend once begotten by mysterious spirits.” (L.1051) Basically a human who has been plagued by spirits; presumably evil because he is begotten. The fiend description is not only of the father, but it also perfectly fits Grendel. Grendel’s ancestry and lineage proves that he is a human.


Obviously Grendel from the epic poem, Beowulf, told by the Danes is a human who is very different from other humans. All of his physical characteristics coincide with human characteristics and his emotions and connections with other humans and his family making Grendel almost positively a human. Even Grendel’s ancestry clearly supports this conclusion. Grendel is a human.


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    • SaintFrantic profile image

      SaintFrantic 5 years ago

      Great Lens

    • davemin profile image

      davemin 7 years ago

      interesting reading