We're continuing our exploration of Beowulf and of course we finally meet face to face (ish?) Grendel!
Grendel is a man-eating demon that lives in the land of the Danes and attacks King Hrothgar's mead-hall, Herot, every evening. The narrator of Beowulf claims that Grendel's motivation is hearing Hrothgar's nightly partying, which rubs his demonic nature the wrong way. Whatever the reason, every night Grendel slaughters more Danes and feeds on their corpses after tearing them limb from limb. Grendel will finally meet his match when Beowulf comes to town!
If you recall from the Prologue, the poet narrator explains that Grendel is the descendant of the Biblical Cain; suggesting that not only is he part of a larger religious or supernatural scheme of evil, but also that they are connected with one of the worst things possible in tribal culture – fratricide, or the killing of a brother. What I've always wondered though is what does he ACTUALLY look like? You'll see at many points in the poem, Grendel seems less like a Biblical figure and more like a ghost, a demon, or something else that belongs in a horror movie.
From what I've learned in college, it is argued that Grendel might represent something that isn't supernatural at all – a member of another tribe, an outcast, or a warrior who won't play by the rules. After all, the real problem with Grendel is not that he kills people. Pretty much everyone in this story kills people. The problem with Grendel is that he seems to kill for fun and he won't pay the blood money owed to the families of the Danes he's killed. So, it's possible to see Grendel, not as a fantastic monster, but as a monstrous human warrior with a pathological love for violence. Or, to spin it another way, you can read Grendel as a vilification of "the other," or the "outcast" a demonic representation of someone outside the tribe. Of course, since he feeds on the corpses of his victims, that makes him a cannibal. But maybe that just adds to the chilling horror of it all.
Did you hear about the cannibal that arrived late to the party? He was given a cold shoulder! I crack myself up sometimes!