Throughout the novel Grendel by novelist John Gardner, it is evident that the main character Grendel undergoes a multitude of changes in his philosophical mindsets and dogmas. Grendel starts off as a young and naive monster that has very little, if any, true knowledge in regards to the outside world beyond the mere in which he resides. During the novel, Grendel becomes exposed to a series of different people and environments in which he acquires a great deal of wisdom and knowledge. This newly acquired ultimately leads to Grendel’s adoption of nihilism as his philosophical worldview.
The story begins with Grendel being sheltered and confined by his mother. During this time period he has not attained any familiarity with the elements that besiege him. At this point in the story, Grendel’s worldview can best be compared to that of a solipsist. He believed that his mind was the only mind in existence. As the novel continues, Grendel does eventually venture off beyond the parameters of his mere and into his surrounding milieu. In the process of doing so he comes across the humans including Hrothgar and the shapers. Due to the fact that the shapers possess the ability to cozen individuals into believing their words, Grendel becomes perplexed and does not know what to believe. One side of him wants to be in agreement with the shaper’s words because he profoundly desires to be accepted by the humans. However, he also becomes angry with the shaper because he realizes that the shaper bears false witness. Grendel continues to maintain a solipsist state of mind and begins to yearn for knowledge in regards to his purpose for subsistence. Along this mental journey of his, he learns to cope with the existence of other creatures besides himself. As he learns to accept others, he develops the notions that everyone is his enemy and he is the only creature who understands who he is. The humans constantly treated Grendel as opposition in every encounter they had. Grendel responded to the humans treatment of him in a very malicious manner by raiding their village during the night and killing masses of people at once. As a result of the rather malevolent relationship that existed amongst the humans and Grendel, the values that Grendel had once embodied started to slowly evaporate and dwindle away.
Towards the end of the book, Grendel begins to adopt nihilism as his ultimate philosophical worldview. The adoption of this worldview was more than likely a corollary of the human’s maltreatment of Grendel. In the end, Grendel’s philosophical journey can be related to that of any human being. What may have initially been optimism was essentially converted to pessimism due to feelings of isolation and rejection.