Chapter 7 Summary
Grendel reflects on the necessity of balance in his universe. Although he could kill all the Danes in one night, he needs Hrothgar alive to maintain his identity as the “Hrothgar-Wrecker.” Grendel even notes the absurdity of his need for meaning in a meaningless universe. Grendel’s inner monologue style fractures, belying his own increasing madness. He recalls the first meeting of Hrothgar’s Scyldings with a newly arrived power, the Helmings. Led by the young prince Hymgod, the Helmings have encroached on Hrothgar’s vast territory, posing a potential threat to Hrothgar’s sovereignty. Hrothgar marches on the Helming stronghold with his mightiest warriors (including Unferth, now an outcast among his brethren) to confront Hymgod. Hrothgar’s arrogance toward Hymgod is supported by his military might—he could, if he wished wipe out the Helmings this very day. Instead, Hymgod proposes a treaty. He will give his sister to Hrothgar, thus linking their families and making the Helmings subservient to the Scyldings. Hymgod bestows upon his sister the new name “Wealtheow,” meaning “holy servant of common good.”
Grendel watches all this unfold. At first, he is excited at the prospect of humans spilling each other’s blood; then he is frustrated at the peace they make, and infuriated at Hymgod’s apparent stupidity at aligning himself with Hrothgar. More terrible to Grendel, however, is his reaction to Wealtheow’s self-sacrifice. Taken by her great beauty, he is simultaneously amazed and appalled at her willingness to give herself to Hrothgar for the sake of her brother and her people.
Grendel has difficulty that winter and cannot touch the Scyldings for some reason. He watches as Wealtheow bestows her kindness upon the Scyldings, even though she is essentially a prisoner among them. He even sees her comfort Unferth in his isolation, declaring his previous humiliations by Grendel occurrences of the past, and bringing him back to his heroic self. Grendel also observes that Wealtheow is not actually happy to be among the Scyldings, only coming truly alive when her brother visits, but that she nonetheless looks upon Hrothgar with pity and compassion, while he is unaware of her looks.
Filled with maniacal rage, Grendel attacks the combined party of Scyldings and Helmings, targeting Wealtheow. He threatens to kill her, holding her by her legs and preparing to pull her apart, but stops. He kills Hymgod’s pet bear and leaves, frustrated in his own desire for obliteration and oblivion.
Chapter 7 Analysis
Wealtheow, who embodies Christian ideals, challenges Grendel’s existential skepticism. Whereas Grendel is self-serving and wishes harm upon his enemies, Wealtheow gives herself willingly to her brother’s enemy (Hrothgar) for the sake of her people. Wealtheow brings peace and reconciliation, and even prevents Grendel from attacking the Scyldings when she first arrives. Grendel is both enchanted and repulsed by Wealtheow. She is a mystery to him, someone whom he finds admirable but also stupid.
Grendel’s eventual attack upon the Scyldings—targeting Wealtheow—highlights his frustration at this unmoving challenge to his newfound identity. As he holds her legs in his two hands, he looks between them—noting the lack of male sex organs—and laughs; to him, Wealtheow’s Christian selflessness is ultimately impotent and will end with her own life. Still, Grendel is troubled and, unlike the situation with Unferth, he leaves Wealtheow alive not because he refuses to kill her, but because he finds that he cannot. He describes the murder of Wealtheow as his own “ultimate act of nihilism.” It is Wealtheow, rather than Hrothgar or the Scyldings, who now defines Grendel’s place in the cosmic order.
Chapter 8 Summary
Hrothulf, Hrothgar’s nephew, joins Hrothgar’s household upon the death of his father, Hrothgar’s brother. Both Grendel and Hrothgar detect deception in Hrothulf’s heart, although Wealtheow welcomes the boy openly.
Grendel watches as the young Hrothulf grows into a bitter, violence-filled man. Hrothulf wanders the woods with his mentor, an old peasant named Red Horse, who fills his mind with thoughts of blood and terror as acts of revolution. Hrothulf demonstrates his own cunning by arguing that violence for its own sake is meaningless, and freedom for the revolutionaries and enslavement for the defeated is not his goal. The old peasant ends his own rant by declaring all systems of government to be evil, revealing himself an anarchist.
Hrothulf may be scheming, but he is kind to his cousins, who are Hrothgar’s children, and even a bit infatuated by Hrothgar’s daughter by a previous wife, Freawaru. Hrothgar, on the other hand, broods upon his throne. The old king realizes that his physical powers are dimming, and all around him are potential enemies. Hrothulf desires his kingdom, Hymgod would be more than ready to step in and take over but for Wealtheow’s presence, and Wealtheow herself, who is not intentionally an enemy, makes Hrothgar a coward in many ways, with her youth and beauty so futilely spent on the old king.
Grendel even feels pity for Hrothgar, but justifies his continued harrying of the old king by remembering Hrothgar’s poor treatment of him and the fact that Hrothgar would be nothing if not for Grendel’s opposition.
Chapter 8 Analysis
Hrothulf’s arrival brings the Machiavellian philosophy of the body politic. Hrothulf is a schemer intent on gathering power to himself and taking over Hrothgar’s kingdom. Hrothgar sees this, but because of his place in the nation-state, he is powerless to do anything. Hrothgar created this world but becomes its captive. He must behave as a proper king would, by protecting his subjects and his family (and Hrothulf is both). Hrothgar and Grendel both recognize the reality that Hrothulf, for all his hidden disloyalties, truly is the best person to fill Hrothgar’s position once the old king is gone.
Hrothulf’s pragmatism tempers Red Horse’s philosophy of revolution. While Red Horse would see all governments overthrown, Hrothulf recognizes the need for human governance and a system of controlling nations. Additionally, the character of Red Horse gives the reader a contrast to Hrothulf, casting the young nephew of Hrothgar in a somewhat more positive light.