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Identity: Grendel


The character that best exemplifies the concepts of Freudian, Object Theory, and Neo-Freudian school of thought that is featured prominently in both the stories “Grendel,” and “Beowulf,” is the character Grendel. Through the Neo-Freudian concepts we see Grendel in both of the stories as someone who has no balance and whose mind is still developing like a child. Object theory shows Grendel forms his identity through his association with objects. For example, object theory is shown with the meadhall Heorot that Grendel attacks for over twelve years because of the sounds of joy he hears coming from the hall. With the Freudian school of thought, the character Grendel in both of the stories emphasizes the influence of both the conscious and unconscious mind have on our behavior. By applying these three concepts this will show how this had developed Grendel into a monster.

According to the Freudian school of thought, our minds are structured into two parts: the conscious mind that includes everything that we are of (Freud, 1938)and the unconscious mind which contains a reservoir of feelings, thoughts urges, and memories that exist outside of our conscious awareness. (Freud, 1915; Freud, 1937) In both the stories “Grendel” and “Beowulf” the character Grendel has mind that is structured this way, where the conscious part of his mind seems aware of things around him but the unconscious part of his mind seems to have a roll in influencing his behavior. When there are celebrations in the meadhall, the conscious part of Grendel seems more curious about the tales that are told in the meadhall by stating, “My heart was light with Hrothgar's goodness, and leaden with grief for my own bloodthirsty ways.” (Grendel, p. 48) The unconscious part of Grendel's mind seems to show him as a monster that acts out with violence because people attacked him when they see him and that is the only way he can join in their celebrations is by fighting them back. Another way the Freudian school of thought can be applied to Grendel is through his relationship with his mother. To Grendel the only creature he can relate to is his mother who seems to be the only one who can understand his most basic needs and she is the only one who can help him deal with his loneliness. Grendel's mother treats him as if he still is a child, being very protective of him grabbing on to him while he sleeps and later rescuing him from getting attacked by a band of humans. According to the attachment theory of the Freudian school of thought, the image of the mother fulfilling the infant's needs was believed to leave a lasting impression, or imprinting on the infant's brain that then became the base from which the infant formed, perceived, and reacted in other relationships. (Freud, 1955) It is through attachments that Grendel that helps him form his identity through his association with objects.

Through object theory other people's perception of you influences your behavior and how we form our identity through associations with objects and how other people's perception of you influences how you perceive yourself. (Freud 1928) In both the stories “Grendel,” and “Beowulf,” the character Grendel behavior is associated with the meadhall, Heorot, which he attacks for twelve years. Hearing the celebrations happening in the meadhall, he seems eager to join them in their fun only to end up getting attacked. Grendel, after his first attack on the meadhall, takes pleasure in rampaging and murdering the humans in the meadhall. By attacking the meadhall, he gains the satisfaction by fighting the humans in the meadhall, than he cannot get from his interactions with any other creature. As Grendel attacks the meadhall allows him to have some level of indepenence from his mother. Stemming from the separation of Grendel from his mother, this shows the characteristics he shares with infants. According to Margaret Mahler (1981), “Not holding a child physically or psychologically when it needs to be held, or holding it too tightly in a way that is felt as smothering,” interfers with normal development. The process of Grendel's mind developing liking a child can go back to the Neo-Freudian concepts of someone who has no balance.

Neo-Freudian concepts were based on a group of psychiatrists and psychologists, who were all influenced by Sigmund Freud, who extended his theories, often in a significant social or cultural direction. (Rycroft, p.60) One of the major concepts of Neo-Freudism that can be applied to Grendel is, “Moving towards others. Accept the situation and become dependent on others. This strategy may entail an exaggerated desire for approval or affection.” (Lunksy, p.380) In both of the stories “Beowulf,” and “Grendel,” the character Grendel is shown as someone who has no balance and becomes dependent on his mother to survive. As a child Grendel had a very human like relationship with his mother who looked up to her whenever he needed her guidance. When he becomes older he begins to accept the fact that he needs to be free of his mother. According to the Neo-Freudian concept, “From Dependency to Emotional Self-Reliance,” that “an infant gradually develops the concept of the mother as a separate person, a concept that remains in force even when the mother is out of sight.” (Freud. A, p.5) Grendel is shown as a monster portrayed in both of the stories as a child who moves through a succession of stage, completing each stage before moving on to the next. This is shown by Grendel sneaking out of the cave and beginning to explore the world on his own showing him becoming less dependent on his mother for guidance.

The character Grendel can be very complicated to understand. I believe he is the best example of someone who stands out as somebody who best represents the concepts of Freudian, Object Theory, and Neo-Freudian. He is a character that I fell like I have a little sympathy for as he is someone who is unattached from the world around him. The story of his life is very lonely and he is somebody trying to seek an understanding of the world around him.


Freud S. In: The Unconscious. James Strachey, translator. London: Hogarth Press; 1915. Standard Edition.

Freud S. In: An Outline of Psychoanalysis. James Strachey, Translator. London: Hogarth Press; 1938. Standard Edition

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Freud, S. (1955). The Psychogenesis of a Case of Homosexuality in a Woman. In 3. Strachey (Ed. and Trans.), The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (Vol. 18, Pp. 145-172). London: Hogarth Press. (Original Work Published 1920).

Anna Freud: Her Life and Work. Freud Museum Publications (1993) P. 5

Lunksy, L.L. "Neo-Freudian Social Philosophy ." Archives of Internal Medicine. 111.5 (1963): 680–680. Web. 7 Mar. 2012.

Mahler, Margaret. The Selected Papers of Margaret S. Mahler. Volume I: Infantile Psychosis and Early Contributions. 1981

Rycroft, Charles. A Critical Dictionary of Psychoanalysis (London 1995) P. 60.



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