The introspective monster Grendel wages a twelve-year war against the Danes. The novel reflects on the philosophical implications of the conflict.
Below are some reading passages that we have hand picked to supplement this book. Be sure to read the passage summaries and our suggestions for instructional use.
In Jean Toomer’s poem “Storm Ending,” a speaker describes a storm taking place above them through figurative language.
Have students read “Storm Ending” after they have read Chapter 2 of Grendel, in order to use metaphor to examine character. How does Toomer’s poem evoke a sense of the storm’s power in comparison to the vulnerability of the “full-lipped flowers”? In what ways is the power relationship between the thunder and the flowers similar to the power relationship between Hrothgar’s army and Grendel? In what ways is it different?
In the informational text “Want to Get Into College? Learn to Fail,” dean of admissions Angel B. Pérez discusses what colleges are really looking for and offers his surprising take on the importance of failure.
Instruct students to read “Want to Get Into College? Learn to Fail” after reading Grendel Chapter 5, in order to analyze theme. At the end of chapter 5, the dragon claims Grendel improves man as their relationship is as “inseparable as the mountain climber and the mountain” (73). In “Learn to Fail” why does the college admissions dean believe confronting failure is a defining characteristic of the best students? In what ways does Grendel “improve” the Danes, as the dragon claims? If it is true that challenges and failure create opportunities for growth, why should people (or Grendel) limit the challenges they create for others?
“Self-Concept” introduces several psychology concepts that describe how people think about themselves.
Introduce the text “Self-Concept” after students have read Grendel Chapter 6, in order to generate a discussion around the topic of psychological constructs. Consider Unferth’s self-concept in terms of the three components Carl Rogers theorizes. How does Unferth’s confrontation with Grendel challenge Unferth at all three of these levels? For instance, how does the fight challenge Unferth’s view of himself? Why did this fight satisfy Grendel? What does Grendel’s destruction of Unferth’s self-concept reveal about Grendel’s self-worth? Why do people put others down to feel good about themselves?
This article describes life in North Korea under totalitarian government rule. In North Korea, the government has total control over the economy, the military, education, and people’s access to information—and it punishes those who try to change the status quo.
Read “Total Control in North Korea” after reading Grendel Chapter 8. Red Horse claims that all governments work in their own self-interest. Hrothulf responds that even if this is the case, “There can be more freedom or less freedom in different states” (119). How does the description of the Kim family’s leadership and power compare with the depiction of Hrothgar’s leadership and power? If Hrothulf knew of North Korea, do you think he would assess Hrothgar’s leadership more positively or do you think it would confirm his sense that Hrothgar has become authoritarian? What kind of leadership do you think Hrothulf imagines would lead to people having more freedom?
In “The Danger of a Single Story,” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie discusses the importance of not allowing one story to construct your understanding of the world.
Have students read “The Danger of a Single Story” after reading Grendel Chapter 10. In her TED talk, Adichie describes “How impressionable and vulnerable [humans] are in the face of a story.” How are the Danes, and even Grendel though he resists it, “impressionable and vulnerable” in the face of the stories the Shaper tells? For both Adichie and Gardner, stories can shape their listeners’ minds either by expanding people’s perspectives through challenging the status quo or by limiting people’s perspectives through reifying the status quo. How do the Shaper’s stories impact the belief systems of the Danes? If Grendel could have presented to the Danes an alternative story to the one the Shaper presented, what do you think would have been the theme of his story?
Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) was an American poet who spent most of her life in seclusion. This poem was written in 1862, but was published posthumously (or after Dickinson’s death) in 1953. In this poem, the speaker discusses "the Dark," something unknown and ever-present.
Introduce “We Grow Accustomed to the Dark” after students have read Grendel Chapter 12. In Dickinson’s poem, she challenges the common assumption that darkness is bad by suggesting that the unknown represents possibility. In a similarly ironic connection between darkness and possibility, when Grendel is dying he asks, “‘Is it joy I feel?’” (173). Does the potential that Dickinson suggests is latent in darkness help explain why Grendel may feel joy when he senses the nearness of his death? What is the relationship in Grendel between the unknown and the possibility of hope?