Saturday, November 30, 2013

"The Mental Traveler" vs. Grendel

Grendel by John Gardner and William Blake’s “Mental Traveler” both deal with the same loss of innocence and change that occurs when infants are exposed to experience. In the “Mental Traveler”, Blake states that “For there the Babe is born in joy”. The same can be said in Grendel’s case. Grendel starts off being quite content with his world; he considers himself a part of his mother, “She loved me, in some mysterious sense I understood without her speaking it. I was her creation. We were one thing, like the wall and the rock growing out from it.” (page 17, Gardner) Ignorant and without any of his own thoughts, ideas, or philosophies, Grendel in chapter 2 is virtually untouched by the world. All he knows is the pounding of his mother’s heart and the warmth of her loose skin. However, when he meets man, everything changes. The same can be said for the infant in Blake’s “Mental Traveler”. When the baby is first born, he is joyful and ignorant; he has no contact with the outside world. However, when he is given to a n old woman (aka exposed to a human), everything changes. She “nails him down upon a rock,” and “catches his shrieks in cups of gold.” It is not said explicitly whether the old woman was what caused the infant to shriek or if he was even shrieking before the encounter, but the fact that they mention this after he was passed to the old woman is significant, as if she was the cause of his sudden misery. In a sense, the old woman is much like the dragon that appears in John Gardner’s Grendel. She “Cuts his heart out at his side, / To make it feel both cold and heat”, which is somewhat equivalent to exposing the baby to the world. She is giving him the experience of cold and heat or good and evil. The dragon appears to become Grendel’s mentor for the same reasons that the woman is the one caring for the baby, to expose him to the world. Up until that point, Grendel has known two things: the shielded cave that he was born into with his mother and the idealistic, meaningful world that the Hrothgar’s tribe (human society) has created. The dragon gives him a chance to feel “cold” by exposing him to what the reader might consider “the truth”. However, like the “Mental Traveler” his transformation and maturity does not end there. Grendel constantly shifts back and forth between the dragon’s philosophies and the philosophies of the shaper just as the female and male in Blake’s poem are constantly growing old and becoming younger. It is a cycle that has no end. As Grendel dies at the end of the novel, another being will probably appear to take on his role of the “monster” in order to make the human society function, and then the dragon will probably reappear to explain the universe as he sees it, without meaning. 

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