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I think Gardner does want us to identify with Grendel, especially his pain of isolation. Really it struck me that perhaps a big reason Grendel did what he did was because he was so lonely. Grendel is a novel driven by the main character's sense of isolation. Grendel cannot relate to his mother, whom he considers little more than a brute beast, nor can he make himself understood by the humans he encounters, even though he understands their speech. Grendel is a perpetual outsider, looking for a place to belong. His high-handed search for philosophical meaning is ultimately one more attempt to know who he is and where he belongs.