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A List of Original Essay Topics on Grendel – 10 Great Ideas

The 1971 novel “Grendel” by John Gardner is a retelling of the antagonist character in “Beowulf” the Anglo-Saxon epic poem written between the 8th and 11th centuries. The novel deals with questions and ideas of the Western Civilization, mainly the nature of good and evil and finding meaning within the world. Here is a list of 10 great original essay topics you can use for your papers or as a basis for inspiration to develop your own topics:

  1. “Grendel” begins in spring and ends in winter, chronicling the final year of Grendel’s life. How does Gardner use this structure or cycle of life to discuss the themes from the novel as a whole?
  2. How does Grendel’s inability to see the seasons for what they are and in failing to see the difference between them relate to what Gardner tries to say about humans’ understanding of life and death?
  3. How is the meaning of novel affected by the fact that it is based on another classical work of early English literature? When battle between Beowulf occurs from Grendel’s perspective the roles of protagonist and antagonist are switched. What does this say about perspective in literature?
  4. Can you discuss Grendel’s attitude and understanding towards the human language? And how does each change through the course of the story?
  5. As an example of metafiction, Grendel spends most of his time observing humans, trying to understand their laws, morals, and value systems. Unlike the poem, we don’t see them as helpless victims to slaughter by Grendel but rather as faceless humans working within systems that make no sense.
  6. How does Gardner’s use of imagery play a role in the novel? Is it appropriate to begin with or is there a deeper meaning in its presence?
  7. Why did Gardner choose to use Grendel as his narrator? Were there other choices that could have presented a similar outcome while chronicling the final year of Grendel’s life and his believed understanding of it?
  8. Why do you think Grendel is attracted to the opposing views and words of the Shaper and the dragon? How do these opposing viewpoints affect the way Grendel behaves and sees his place in the world?
  9. Do we understand what Grendel expects from Hrothgar and the Danes? Is it possible for us to understand from his perspective or is the idea of a goal a human creation?
  10. What roles do astrological signs play throughout the novel? Can you follow a single sign and provide support for what it represents to the novel as a whole?


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