Grendel Chapter 6
Grendel believes that, while before he just thought vaguely that the Shaper's songs were false and silly, because of the dragon he now knows it for sure. Everything seems hopeless and pointless to him. Plus, the dragon put a spell on Grendel so that no weapon can hurt him. This changes him: he used to feel some closeness with the men, but now he is completely alone.
At first, he thought this new power was a good thing. One night in the first year that he tormented Hrothgar's kingdom, he heard the Shaper singing. He had never attacked the hall itself--only killed people outside of it. But he feels a change within him: hearing the Shaper's song, about how blessed they are, infuriates him. He hates their happy, confident faces. Suddenly a guard appears and attacks Grendel--but nothing happens. They are both surprised. They fight, and gradually Grendel realizes he can't be hurt. He thinks it's all hilarious--the way the men attack him even though he isn't bothering them, how easily he can kill them, how terrified they are of him. He bites the head off a guard in front of everyone, just to torment them. He feels joyful. "I had become, myself, the mama I'd searched the cliffs for once in vain." Chapter 6, pg. 80
He is a great and powerful fighter, and he is proud of himself. But he also feels more alone than ever. He notices it for the first time a few nights later. He hears the men yelling about how they will serve their king by dying. He knows this is idiotic, but he feels empty inside as he kills them. He knows the killing is meaningless too, especially since they can't fight him. He begins to smash things, enraged at his own feelings. Then Unferth appears. He is a tall, brave man, who speaks self-righteously to Grendel, telling him he is going to die and asking him to make peace with his god. Grendel teases him, and Unferth realizes that Grendel can speak, though he can't quite understand the words. He begins to talk to Grendel like a human, rather than an animal, telling him that tonight will make his reputation as a hero. Grendel thinks this is pompous. He gets a cruel idea, and, teasing Unferth, moves toward a pile of apples. He tells Unferth that he doesn't envy him the job of being a hero. It must be a lot of pressure, making sure one never fails. Though there are good things about it too, he continues mockingly. One can act superior, and heroic acts impress women. Plus, it must be nice simply to know that one is a hero. Listening to this, Unferth gets more and more angry. Grendel throws a single apple, then hits Unferth with so many apples that the man falls to the ground, bleeding and crying. Grendel is extremely pleased: Unferth is not such a hero after all.
Grendel goes back to his cave, sure that Unferth will not follow. But he does follow, secretly, and comes to Grendel's cave three days later to fight him again. Grendel holds his angry mother back and looks at Unferth, who is collapsed on the ground. Grendel realizes that he must have crawled his way to the cave. The man tells Grendel that when he kills him, his great deed will be remembered forever, even if he himself dies as well. Unferth tries to explain heroism. It is not just showing off, or talking poetically, or doing good things to get good things for yourself in return. The fact that he is there alone, without anyone to see him give up his life to kill Grendel, proves that heroism is real. People might never know that Unferth died this way, but it doesn't matter. Grendel is irritated: will people sing songs about Unferth for years to come, or won't they? He wishes the man would stick to one story, no matter how silly it might be. Unferth tries to convince Grendel, angry that nothing seems to change his condescending smirk. Grendel doesn't think that heroism has any meaning: it's just another way of passing the time. Unferth informs him that one of them will die tonight: is that boring, he asks? Grendel decides to carry Unferth back to Hrothgar unharmed, just to spite him. Though Unferth threatens to kill himself, he knows that to do so would be cowardly. Unferth, exhausted, falls asleep. For years now, Grendel has avoided killing Unferth, though Unferth desperately wants to die a heroic death. Grendel is pleased: he understands reality differently now. The Shaper and Unferth may be wrong, but so is the dragon. Some things do have meaning.