The reader is focused on Grendel’s perception of the Danes. The deaths go by easily, because of the humor involved. It does not cross the reader’s mind that these are people Grendle is killing. The humor allows the reader to sympathize with Grendel’s position, that of the predator. The prey is not meaningful, only nutritious and entertaining. It is a macabre humor, which accentuates how no death is noble, it is simply death. By making the Danes un-heroic and un-ideal, cowards and drunkards, the author is presenting the reality through the humor.
In contrast to the drunken lurching of the others, Unferth comes toward Grendel with speeches and bravery. He is a puffed up as a peacock, proud and ready to die for his king, his people, his ideal. Grendel simply states, “He was one of those. ” Grendel sees Unferth with a clear and unbiased mind. He is ridiculous. His exaggerated heroism, his words, even his first move, to scuttle sideways like a crab from thirty feet away, is laughable. Grendle does with him what he does with no other Dane in the story, he talks. Unferth offers Grendle death, and Grendle sends back taunts.
The reason this scene is funny is because the taunts are sharply accurate. The self-sacrificing hero is shown to be a spotlight loving fool, serving only his own reputation. Grendel continues talking to Unferth, making the poor wretch angrier by the moment. At one point, he compares Unferth to a harvest virgin. Unferth attempts to begin his own speeches, but is always cut off by Grendel, who has another barb to throw at him. Finally, Unferth screams and charges, his voice breaking. This scene, of escalating argument, presents a different type of humor.
While the first was a slapstick, exaggerated and dark humor, the argument is more sarcastic, intelligent and cutting. It exposes the cruel reality of the hero; he serves only himself and his fame when helping others. When Unferth charges him, Grendel does the unthinkable. He throws an apple at him. Unferth is astonished, and even loses his heroic vocabulary. He continues charging, and Grendel continues the barrage of apples. This scene is pure humiliation for Unferth, pure delight for Grendel, and entertaining for the reader.
Grendel, murderer and monster, is hitting the hero with simple red apples. By doing this, he is breaking any type of significance the battle could ever have. The bards cannot sing of how the monster threw apples. It is symbolically important that Grendel throws apples. Unferth symbolizes a virgin, pure in ideal and purpose. The apple brought down the first virgin, Eve, as these apples bring him down. They represent the truth, the knowledge that Grendle is pelting him with. The hero ends up on the floor crying, and Grendel remarks to him “Such is lifeâ€¦such is dignity. This remark holds no pity, only scorn, and is funny in its viciousness.
Most of the humor in the novel is followed by some of the most chilling and melancholic pieces of prose. This contrast of the humoristic with the somber makes the despair Grendel feels a more striking emotion. Before being completely exposed to nihilism and solitude by the Dragon, Grendel is compared to a bunny rabbit because he was startled. The monster that terrified the Danes is terrified by the Dragon, who continues poking fun at him and his fear.
The reader is presented with the impotent figure of Grendel, trying desperately to react in some way to the dragon’s laughter, and not knowing how. He gets angry, which immediately makes the dragon deadly serious. What follows is the dragon stating in turn his truths about life and snide side remarks on humanity. The humor allows the reader to connect slightly with Grendel’s feelings as they transition from the comedy to the drama, sometimes in a jarring fashion. This same transition occurs in the interaction of Grendel and Unferth. The Dane is a broken man, both physically and mentally.
He cries. He has a broken nose. The humor is lost as the reader begins to feel pity for him. Once we feel connected to the being suffering, the humor evaporates, leaving behind the message, ideals are false. The humor sets up the atmosphere and the elements of the message, but it is only in the alternate tone that the message is truly established. Grendel’s humor is the truth in some aspects and a farce in others. It contrasts sharply with the Dane’s views but it is a valid view. At the same time, the humor in Grendel hides a deep despair and the root messages.
Grendel makes fun of Unferth, but is more like Unferth that he could possibly guess. Unferth represents the hero brought down by the monster, and the shattering of his own beliefs. Grendel is a monster who has no beliefs, and is brought down by an unnamed hero. The dragon spares Grendel, while Unferth is by Grendel. Unferth is a cast out among the men, and Grendle is a cast out to all human society. Unferth seeks desperately to die in the fight, and regain some type of honor. Grendel seeks the fight for some type of recognition from the Danes.
In a way, when Grendel makes fun of Unferth, he is hurting that part of himself he dislikes. He, through Unferth, is hitting at the pretensions human society and at his own imperfections. Killing him would have been unsatisfying, and would not have allowed Grendel his victory. In using humor, Grendel has marked a person, a human being. It is his victory because he has finally connected with someone, his opposite. Even the fact that the battle is through humor presents a part of the victory. He does not need to use the hero”s methods, but uses his own. his words and wit, to win the battle.