I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, “Is it good friend?”
“It is bitter-bitter,” he answered;
“But I like it
Because it is bitter
And because it is my heart.”- Stephen Crane
This reflects how both Grendel and Frankenstein must have felt during their lonely lives. The monsters simply wanted to live as the rest of society does. However, in our prejudice of their kind, we banish them from our elite society. Who gave society the right to judge who is acceptable and who is not? A better question would be who is going to stop society from judging? The answer is no one. Therefor, society continues to alienate the undesirables of our community. Some of the greatest minds of all time have been socially unacceptable. Albert Einstein lived alone and rarely wore socks of the same colour. Van Gogh found comfort only in his art and the women who constantly denied his passion. Edgar Allen Poe was “different” to say the least, consumed by the morose. Just like these great men, Grendel and Frankenstein’s monster do not conform to the societal model. Also like these men, Grendel and the monster are uniquely superior to the rest of mankind. Their superiority is seen through their guile to live in a society that ostrasises their kind.
Grendel, though he needs to kill to do so, functions very well in his own sphere. Grendel survives in a hostile climate where he is hated and feared by all do to his frightening physical appearance. He lives in a cave protected by fire-snakes so as to physically and spiritually separate himself from the society that detests yet admires him. Grendel is “the brute existents by which [humankind] learns to define itself” (Gardener 73). Hrothgar’s thanes continually try to extinguish Grendel’s infernal rage, while he simply wishes to live in harmony with them.
Like Grendel, Frankenstein’s monster also learns to live in a society that despises his kind. Frankenstein must also kill, but this is only in response to the people’s abhorrence of him. Ironically, the very man who bore him now searches the globe seeking the creature’s destruction. Even the ever-loving paternal figure now turns away from this outcast from society. The monster journeys all over the world to escape from the societal ills that lead everyone to hate him. He ventures to the harshest most desolate, most uninhabitable place known, the north pole knowing that Frankenstein will follow. Frankenstein does pursue his creation in hopes of pushing it to the edge of the world trusting that the monster would fall off. At the same time, the monster leads Frankenstein to the solitude of the icy glaciers in hopes of better explaining to Frankenstein how he exists in society. The monster lives this way until his father’s death, where they join in the perpetual silent acceptance of death. Frankenstein’s creation makes only a few attempts to become one with society and almost gives up until he is accepted by the captain. As the captain listens to the monster’s story he begins to understand the monster’s plight. He accepts the monster as a reluctant, yet devoted servant to his master. Although the monster does not “belong”, he is accepted with admiration by the captain. The respect that he has longed for is finally given to him as he announces his suicide in the name of his father, the late Victor Frankenstein. On the other hand, Grendel makes numerous attempts to assimilate into society, but society repeatedly turns him back. Early in his life, Grendel dreams of associating with Hrothgar’s great warriors. Nightly, he goes down to the meadhall to listen to Hrothgar’s stories of the thanes’ heroism, but most of all, he attends to hear the Shaper. The Shaper’s stories are Grendel’s only education as they enlighten him to the history of the society that he yearns to join. “[The Shaper] changed the world, had torn up its past by its thick gnarled roots and had transmuted it, and they, who knew the truth, remembered it his way – and so did [Grendel]” (Gardner 43). Upon Grendel’s first meeting with Hrothgar, the great hero tries to kill him by hacking him out of tree. “The king [Hrothgar] snatches an ax from the man beside him and, without any warning, he hurls it at [Grendel]” (Gardner 27). After being attacked by those he so admires, Grendel turns against them to wreak havoc on their civilization. The more society alienates Grendel and Frankenstein’s monster, the more the two “creatures” come to realize the invalidity of “social heroism”. As Grendel’s oppressors see it heroism consists of the protection of one’s name; the greater glory of their line; and most of all, their armor collection. According to Frankenstein’s time, a hero is someone who protects a lady’s name; earns greater glory for themselves and their country; and has a large collection of prestigious degrees to hang on their walls. Social heroism is not a single event; it is properly defined as a “revolution”. It is an on-going, ever-changing series of “heroic” events. This “revolution is not the substitution of immoral for moral, or of illegitimate violence for legitimate violence; it is simply the pitting of power against power, [hero against hero,] where the issue is freedom for the winners and enslavement of the rest” (Gardner 119). This revolution is built on intimidation; the powerful in society oppressing the undesirables. “Murder and Mayhem are the life and soul of [the] revolution” (Gardner 118).
This revolution is most evident in John Gardner’s Grendel. In Hrothgar’s meadhall, his thanes are discussing the heroic revolution with the Shaper.
According to the Shaper:
.. . . the kingdom, those in power, pretends to be protecting the values of all people. Supposedly, the revolution causes the kingdom to save the values of the community; regulate compromise; improve the quality of the commonwealth. In other words, protect the power of the people in power and repress the rest . . . [It] rewards people who fir the system best. The Kings immediate thanes; the thanes’ top servants, and so on ’till you come to the people that don’t fit in at all. No problem. Drive them to the darkest corners of the kingdom, starve them, arrest and execute a few, or put them out to war. (Gardner 118) In Grendel’s time, violence is the common denominator in all righteousness. “The incitement to violence depend upon total transvaluation of the ordinary values. By a single stroke, the most criminal acts may be converted to heroic and meritorious deeds” (Gardner 117). Certainly the only difference between appalling acts of violence and heroic deeds is who commits them. What might be appropriate for a king would be unheard of by a peasant. “If the Revolution [ever] comes to grief, it will be because [the powerful] have become alarmed at [their] own brutality” (Gardner 117). Then, as the rich descend, the poor will rise to power in order to complete the revolution. “The total ruin of institution and [heroism] is [in itself] an act of creation” (Gardner 118). To break the circle would cause “evolution”, forward progress that would enhance the natural progress of mankind. However, according to Gardner, this will never happen because the powerful enjoy their present state of grace.
Though not as overt as Grendel, the concept of “revolution” is also displayed in Frankenstein. Frankenstein’s society ostrasises its undesirables by chasing them to the darkest corners of the world in much the same way that Grendel’s society does. Frankenstein’s monster is driven from his birthplace by his creator only to find that he must hide in shadowed allies to avoid social persecution. In the theme of revolution, the rich control what is acceptable, and to them, Frankenstein’s monster definitely does not fit the mold. Next, he seeks asylum in a small barn. The place where he finds refuge is a cold dark corner symbolic of how society forces the non-elite from their spheres to places where they cannot be seen or heard and therefor do not exist. After the monster saves the starving family by harvesting their crops, they repay him by running him off their land. This incident repeats itself throughout his journeys. Finally, the creature travels to the cold wastelands of the Arctic Circle. In this uninhabitable place there is no one to persecute him, and Frankenstein maliciously continues to follow his own invention, hoping to completely destroy it. When Frankenstein dies, his monster is the first to come lay his body to rest and the first to follow him into the afterlife.
Frankenstein’s monster fits the idea of a true hero, rather than the romantic view of heroism shared by society. He is chivalrous and loyal. Showing his chivalry by helping a family in need, he still accepts their hatred of him. He helps others although he receives nothing in return and holds absolute loyalty to his creator. Frankenstein shuns his creation and devotes his life to killing the monster. However, the same monster he hunts until death is the first to show respect to the fallen master after his death. The monster builds a funeral pyre to honour Frankenstein whose despite for him is ceaseless. His loyalty extends as far as the ritual suicide he commits while cremating the body of his creator.
Most importantly, the monster is true to himself. Society wishes that he would cease to exist, but their opinion is irrelevant to him. His creator disdains him, but the monster learns to cope with his own emotions, supporting himself. The monster relies solely on what he believes in, not in what society believes to be important. His actions are based upon his own assessments of situations, rather than what is socially acceptable.
Grendel, like Frankenstein’s monster, is isolated from society, and his actions classify him as a true hero. Grendel has little outside influence and has to rely on his own emotions to make decisions. Grendel is the epitome of “blind courage”. For example, when the bull attacks Grendel, he simply calculates the bull’s movements and fearlessly moves out of the way. Even when the bull rips through his leg, Grendel is not afraid. He repeatedly charges into the meadhall and destroys its best warriors without a second thought. Grendel even has the courage to taunt Hrothgar’s best thanes by throwing apples at them. Grendel “breaks up their wooden gods like kindling and topples their gods of stone” (Gardner 128). It is this type of “blind courage” that Grendel believes saves his live in battle.
Just as society’s heroes fight foolishly, their opinions are made by prejudice and reflect the ignorance of humankind. Both monsters are seen as the minions of evil. It is as though Grendel is compared to Cain, who murdered his own brother and was left with the “mark of the devil”. Even the author alludes to the descent of the race of Grendel from Cain. Frankenstein is proposed to be of cursed origin. However, neither of the two can be properly defined as Satanic, especially on the based on the information through the rest of the two books.
Through the predetermined of society, Grendel is seen as an evil come to destroy all of mankind. Conversely, Grendel is a victim of society; he was not born inherently evil. Society unduly restrains Grendel to heinous stereotypes that he does not fit. For example, another character, Unferth, more closely fits the description of Cain than Grendel. Unferth was responsible for his own brother’s death just as Cain killed his own brother. Clearly it is not Grendel that should be condemned. He only tries to assimilate into society, but after being continually rejected he turns to violence in response to society’s hatred of him.
Similar to Grendel, Frankenstein’s monster in also pictured as satanic. The monster is a unique creation. Like Adam, he is united by no link to any other being, yet by his condition he resembles some devilish character. Also, like Grendel, Frankenstein was not born evil; he was forced to into his way of life by the society that rejected him. After this rejection, Frankenstein “like the arch-fiend, bore a hell within him” (Shelley 136). He understands his existence and how society wrongfully rejects it and simply wants society to have that same understanding in order to overlook his configuration.
The two monsters’ superiority to humans can be seen in their ability to live in a society that has excommunicated them; their true heroism in place of society’s romantic view, and the ignorance on which society’s opinion of the monsters is based. Frankenstein’s monster and Grendel not only seem to manifest society’s fears; they also speak of nature to inform us that we do not have to be afraid of them.