Images of machinery regularly
appear in Grendel's thoughts and seem to help him to understand
both himself and his world. It is an odd, strangely modern image
for an old organic cave-monster like Grendel.
Heritage Dictionary defines machine as
1. a. A device consisting of fixed and moving parts that modifies
mechanical energy and transmits it in a more useful form. b.
A simple device, such as a lever, a pulley, or an inclined plane,
that alters the magnitude or direction, or both, of an applied
force; a simple machine.
2. A system or device for doing work, as an automobile or a jackhammer,
together with its power source and auxiliary equipment.
3. A system or device, such as a computer, that performs or assists
in the performance of a human task: The machine is down.
4. An intricate natural system or organism, such as the human
5. A person who acts in a rigid, mechanical, or unconscious manner.
6. An organized group of people whose members are or appear to
be under the control of one or more leaders: a political machine.
7. a. A device used to produce a stage effect, especially a mechanical
means of lowering an actor onto the stage. b. A literary device
used to produce an effect, especially the introduction of a supernatural
being to resolve a plot.
Above all, a machine has no choice, no free will. It must
do what it has been designed to do. And that is all. Because
it lacks this freedom, it need not worry about the morality of
its functioning. But you might argue that humans who use the
machine must decide on how to use it, and this involves choice
between right and wrong. This is true, if you grant free will
to humans. But what if we are also just machines, as Grendel
seems to think, "blind, mindless, mechanical"?
See seventeenth century mechanism, an offshoot of Cartesianism, which claims that living things
are essentially machines; the materialism of Thomas Hobbes; and Isaac Newton's mechanistic world view as precursor's
to Grendel's peculiarly modern problem.
Consider also the significance of the term "accident"
in this mechanical context.
A persistent scholar might also seek out:
Spraycar, Rudy S. "Mechanism and Medievalism in John
Gardner's Grendel." Science Fiction Dialogues.
Chicago: Academy Chicago, 1982. 141-52.