The novel known as Grendel, written by John Gardner, is a retelling of the Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf from Grendel’s perspective. As the narrator of the story, Grendel’s language is one of the most noticeable attributes of the novel. Grendel’s language can be thought of as an image of loneliness since his language is now appeasable until the end of the novel. Through time and experiences, maturity is apparent when there are changes in his independent beliefs, voice, and style in his language. The change in Grendel’s language throughout the novel supports his approach to language that explains his maturity and his escape from solitude.
Although he was able to talk to the dragon and partially communicate with his mother, the only other person he completely communicated with was himself. Since this was the matter, he mostly talked to himself to escape from loneliness. Since his mother chooses only to grunt and the dragon not always available for conversation, Grendel always spoke to himself. For example, when he is complaining about the ram he tells himself, “’Why can’t these creatures discover a little dignity?’ I ask the sky. The sky says nothing, predictability” (6). Although Grendel understood the humans that he watched, he could not speak their language in terms of understanding. His “English” was known to be more of like a grunt than comprehensible spoken words. However, humans would never be able to speak to a monster like Grendel even if he was capable of speaking the language fluently. The only situation in where humans, Unferth and Ork, actually pick up or completely understand Grendel is towards the end when his language matures. In the end, language is used by Grendel to escape from his dreadful loneliness.
Throughout the story, Grendel is exposed as a growing character through which his language evidently portrays his maturity. In the beginning of the novel in chapters 1 and 2, Grendel was writing in a stream of consciousness and chaotic way. His language was disconnected sometimes, his thoughts were constantly shifting, and his diction was child-like. His child-like diction is clear when he says, “’Go back to your cave, go back to your cowshed—whatever.’” Later in the novel, especially after meeting with the wise, nihilistic dragon, Grendel starts to experiment with different styles in addition with a sophisticated voice. In chapter 4, Grendel starts to imitate the styles that of the Shaper, whom which he had been analyzing, which includes alliteration. In chapter 8 and 9, Grendel begins to understand the languagefully allowing him to create scripts such as those used in plays. After chapter 9, Grendel’s language is thought to be fully evolved, making biblical allusions, narrating as a Shaper, and using intricate words like the dragon. “’You’ll prowl the stalagmites of hell for that, friend Unferth—clever though you are.” Grednels development in language is conclusively perceptible, demonstrating Grendel’s maturity.
The language used by Grendel was a great factor of describing his character and creating understanding in his character. Through language, his loneliness was evident when he was the only person he could fully communicate besides the omniscient dragon. Also, his language was a tool in noticing Grendel’s maturity through the story. Towards the end of the novel, Grendel spoke with a sophisticated diction and style on opposed to simple language in the beginning. All together, the change in Grendel’s language supports his attitude to language; it explained his maturity and escape from loneliness.