Grendel's 'Evil In Modern Thought'

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Evil is a difficult concept to define, although it is generally understood to concern actions of the utmost depravity. As Susan Neiman, author of Evil in Modern Thought, puts it, “calling something evil is a way of marking the fact that it shatters our trust in the world” (qtd. in Romig). However, it goes further than that. Many modern philosophers agree that a key aspect of evil is moral agency, or the ability to choose to do right (Calder; Romig). A moral agent must be able to both differentiate right from wrong and choose one or the other. Typically, this constrains evil to humans. Other animals are controlled by instinct and are unable to understand the ramifications of their actions. Using this definition, it may be tempting to argue that the Grendel depicted by John Gardner cannot be evil. Although his actions are indisputably terrible, perhaps he is simply a wild animal controlled by a biological imperative to kill. However, Grendel is not a wild animal in the conventional sense. He possesses superior intelligence and the ability to plan out his actions far in advance. Because Grendel is able to understand right and wrong…show more content…
This pattern absolutely holds true in the novel, as there are multiple instances in Grendel when the monster commits actions that he acknowledges are wrong. The clearest example of this occurs after his first interaction with Hrothgar. Grendel holds no grudge about Hrothgar's throwing an ax at his head. In fact, he considers that incidence to have been caused by hasty foolishness and nothing more. Instead, he says that he "settled his soul on destroying him--slowly and cruelly" long after the fact, when Hrothgar was old and had likely forgotten he existed (Gardner 30). His use of the word cruel indicates that he fully understands how much suffering his plan is apt to cause, but he he firmly decides to do it

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