Grendel And Life

"Nihil ex nihilo, I always say"(Gardner 150). These are the words of
the infamous Grendel from the novel, titled that same character, by John

Gardner. They represent the phrase "life itself is meaningless" which
is taught to Grendel by a few different people throughout this novel. In the
following essay, the explanation of this phrase, the way Grendel learns about
nihilism, and how Grendel develops the concept of nihilism, as it is known, will
be discussed. First, we attack the nihilism itself. What is Nihilism? Well, this
is one of the main components of the book. It means life itself is meaningless.

What is meant by that phrase is that anything you do or decide to do, means
nothing. For example, if you make a huge decision that you think will affect you
for the rest of your life, according to a nihilist it means nothing. To them, it
will all turn out how it is supposed to turn out and that is that. Nihilism also
refers to people who do not believe they should be told how to live their life
by the government. One major example of a nihilism uprise was in Russia during
the 1860\'s. During this decade, nihilism was primarily a rejection of tradition
and authoritarianism in favor of rationalism and individualism. In Lament\'s
terms, live your lives how you want to live it and do not let anyone tell you
how. In the novel, Grendel first learns this theory indirectly from the
hypocrisy of man. This starts in chapter three where Grendel is observing man
for the very first time. He watches in horror as they fight and scream over land
and treasure. After all of this nonsense and chaos, they still have the nerve to
make speeches about how honorable or great they or their king is, even though
they still kill one another. This is an early sign in the book of the hypocrisy
of man. From chapter three: "Terrible threats, from the few words I could
catch. Things about their fathers, and their fathers\' fathers, things about
justice and honor and lawful revenge, their throats swollen, their eyes rolling
like a newborn colts, sweat running down their shoulders."(Gardner 35).

This quote is Grendel talking about what he sees and only what he sees. This is
where he is wrongly taught about how the humans live out their hypocrisy. You
could compare this situation to a toddler watching an adult and learning by
repeating and mimicking everything done by the older one. This is exactly how

Grendel is learning. In Chapter four, Grendel\'s learning is furthered even more
when he comes in contact with the people of Herot. At first, he comes to the
hall and offers peace and mercy. Immediately the humans hack away at him with
their swords. This really gets Grendel angry since he just offered his peace. He
then becomes part of this hypocrisy by fighting man himself. From chapter four:
"I staggered out into the open and up toward the hall with my burden,
groaning out, \'Mercy! Peace!\' The Harper broke off, the people screamed. (They
all have their own versions, but this is the truth.) Drunken men rushed over
with battle-axes. I sank to my knees crying, \'Friend! Friend!\' They hacked at me
yipping like dogs....", ".... I crushed the body in my hug, then
hurled it in their faces, turned, and fled."(Gardner 52) This was the event
that really made Grendel into a nihilist. The only thing left was to develop
this daring new concept. Enter stage left, the Dragon. The Dragon, the mentor,
the teacher to Grendel of nihilism. Grendel is awakened by the dragon and is
brought to his lair. The Dragon, not caring at all about Grendel as a person,
helps Grendel develop his nihilist ideas. To do this, he explains to him that
repetition is the key to nihilism. No matter how hard the universe try\'s to stop
repetition, it always goes on. For example, if Grendel were not there, some
other evil would be tormenting the humans. From chapter five: "The essence
of life is to be found in the frustrations of established order. The universe
refuses the deading influence of complete conformity."(Gardner 67) The

Dragon\'s teachings do not get through to Grendel very well and finally the

Dragon just lets it all out. "You drive them to poetry, science, religion,
all that makes them what they are for as long as they last. You are, so to
speak, the brute existent by which they learn to define themselves."
(Gardner 73) After that comment, Grendel stubbornly blurts out