What is the role of the Dragon in John Gardner’s Grendel

There are various reasons as to why the character Dragon was included in John Gardner’s Grendel. These reasons include to provide Grendel with a purpose in life, to be an alternative God figure and to give a theme to the novel.Before Grendel first encounters the Dragon he basically feels depressed and very lonely. He is a total outsider as he as no one to talk to, he can’t even communicate with his own mother. Grendel doesn’t really have any reason for living so he just wastes his time listening to the Shaper’s songs. He even admits to himself “I was addicted” this shows the reader that before encountering the Dragon the Shapers songs were basically the highlight of Grendel’s life. Due to this lack of communication Grendel doesn’t really know how to act and make use of his time, this is until he meets the Dragon who gives him a reason for his existence.During their meeting the Dragon tells Grendel “You are so to speak the brute existent by which they learn to define themselves.” What the Dragon basically means by this is that Grendel improves mankind, he gives them their humanity. Another quote to support this is: “You improve them, my boy! Can’t you see yourself? You stimulate them! You make them think and scheme. You drive them to poetry, science, religion, all that makes them what they are for as long as they last.” This also supports the idea that Grendel’s purpose in life is to enhance mankind. After listening to the Dragon Grendel begins to understand that he is worthy of existence, this boosts his self-esteem and develops his character.Another reason as to why the Dragon is in the book is to develop a theme throughout the novel. The Dragon has very philosophical views on the world and these can be interpreted through the metaphors he uses. He tells Grendel to “Seek gold and sit on it.” If you convert this directly the Dragon is basically advising Grendel that he should find himself something he cares about and look after it. However if you interpret this quote using philosophy, I think what Gardner is trying to suggest by this is that people shouldn’t waste their lives trying to get the best job, most money etc. they should just find simple happiness and guard it. As a way of getting his viewpoint across Gardner could be using the Dragon to express it.The Dragon draws religion into the novel, as he could be in the book to provide an alternative God figure. Christians believe that God is all knowing, this can be compared with the Dragon as he states: “It has happened in the future. I am the witness.” This shows a clear relationship between the Dragon and God, maybe suggesting that this is the role of the Dragon in the novel. If we presume that the Dragon does represent God, there is also evidence to suggest that Grendel represents Jesus. It is written in the Bible that Jesus was in fact human and the Dragon tells Grendel “You are mankind.” An additional comparison is Jesus was sacrificed for the good of mankind and the Dragon tells Grendel he will too be sacrificed in order to save mankind. The final comparison I have found is Jesus was a leader, people followed him and he improved peoples lives. This is clearly linked to Grendel because the Dragon tells him “You improve them,” meaning mankind.In conclusion, the character Dragon is included in the novel to give Grendel a purpose in life; something to strive too instead of just wasting his life away listening to the Shapers’ ‘lies.’ Also the character Dragon is used very cleverly by Gardner to get his opinions across to the public. The majority of people reading this novel won’t even realise that their opinions are possibly being manipulated by Gardner’s viewpoints. Finally the Dragon brings in religion to the novel, this could possibly be linked with Gardner’s background, as he is used as an alternative God figure.

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