Existentialism And Nihilism Present In John Gardner's Grendel

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Existentialism and Nihilism Present in Grendel
Existentialism is not essentially nihilism, however nihilism does share a close similarity with existentialism because it describes human life as ultimately meaningless. Grendel throughout the book is seeking an explanation for his personality and the purpose of life. He must go through obstacles with the help and confusion from the Dragon and Shaper to find his answer. While John Gardner explores numerous philosophies and thoughts in Grendel, the three most prominent are existentialism, solipsism and nihilism. Existentialism according to Merriam Webster is a philosophical movement centering on analysis of an individual existence in an unfathomable universe. In other words, the belief that
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Nihilism takes existentialism a step further, to an even barren worldview. Grendel finds himself in the dragon’s lair in which the dragon plants nihilistic ideas in his head. The dragon in this book is described as the ultimate nihilistic creature. The dragon discounts the philosophy of existentialism by believing all things in the universe will come to an end thus making it meaningless. The dragon’s vague cynicism is directed towards nihilism because of what the dragons said. “Futility, doom, become a smell in the air, pervasive and acrid as the dead smell after a forest fire; my scent and the worlds…” Typically after a forest fire there is nothing left and this causes devastation and chaos. Grendel is comparing the aftermath of a forest fire to his life to show hopelessness. Yet Grendel still protests the idea that his actions are meaningless. His encounter with the dragon causes him to be the monster and fulfill all his evil fantasies. Grendel’s anger builds up towards the world for being so confusing and this causes Grendel to kill. He acts as if his actions don’t correlate to any moral implications, however it does have meaning. Therefore it is a misguided attempt to deny the meaningless of life by destroying it. He attempts in different ways to show his denial of meaning. He devours the priest, reducing religion to something that “sits in the stomach like duck eggs.” Grendel puts down Unferth’s pride, which causes Unferth to go from a hero to a sad man. However, when Grendel attempts to kill Wealtheow he concludes killing her “would be as meaningless as letting her

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