Difference in Monstrosity: Grendel and the Green Knight

24 January 2023
2 dk'lık okuma

The concept of the monster lays the very foundation of the cultural self. Every distinct cultural identity insists upon a dialectical relationship with “the other”. Semantically thinking, the self, ipso facto, bespeaks a subjective and homogeneous domain isolated from the outside. In this sense, the concept of identity roots itself in a “strategic and positional” basis (Stuart Hill, Who needs ‘identity’? 17). Paradoxically, the construction of self is doctrinally accompanied by that of the other, ergo resorting to acts of differentiation to put accentuation on the self.

Doctrinally, the monsters become the embodiment of “differentiated” elements of culture to “teach” us the premises not to follow. So, it would not be far-fetched to opine that the composition of “I” demands epistemological and ontological placement in culture to the extent of its displacement of differentiated otherness (Thesis IV). Thereby, the relation to what it excludes, or rather lacks, becomes the substructure of identity. In this sense, the monster as the ultimate other mirrors the cultural self through its lack (Thesis I). Considering their “abnormality” in general, they dialectically show what is normal. Speaking in terminology, it becomes constitutive outside that identity leans on to preserve the homogeneous systematics of cultural discourse. 

At this point, as the first conceptualized monsters, Grendel in Beowulf and the Green Knight in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight undergird the “proper” men of strength and power. Still, although subsumed under the banner of “the other”, Green Knight and Grendel take up dichotomic posture in terms of “monstrosity”. First of all, semantically thinking, the self, ipso facto, bespeaks a subjective and homogeneous domain isolated from the outside. So, their invasion into a homogenous domain of cultural authority, namely Heorot and Camelot, could be interpreted as a challenge to the cultural self. However, the categorization of these monsters actually differs from their descriptions. In this sense, both the introductions of Grendel and Green Knight merit some attention here. Grendel is portrayed as the ultimate other in the form of a preternatural and grotesque image. From the very onset to his death, Grendel becomes the pot-pourri of pejorative images, such as “fiend out of hell”, “grim demon” or “evil”, which are crowned by his association with animalism: “his talon”, “open claw”. This animalism is also compressed within his disconnection from language and clothing.

In my opinion, the clothes become the uniform in a systemized culture that demands homogeneity. The language, in a similar vein, becomes the voice of this uniformity. Perhaps it is at this conjunction that Green Knight evinces intimate strangeness rather than alien corporeality. Apart from his size and greenness, he is portrayed through his properly dressed body, and being able to communicate with the knights through cultural voice. He is set apart from monstrosity, yet not befitting culture either, ergo oscillating in between. Green Knight is as monstrous as his association with the horse’s mane and, at the same time, as civilized as his “utilizing” it, as also portrayed in Cain: A Mystery (Ayrım 510). In this sense, Grendel becomes an ultimate other who needs to be killed, while Green Knight becomes a partial one to teach topical cultural elements in a fatherly manner. 


Works Cited

AYRIM, Oğuzhan. “Lord Byron’s Cain: A Mystery – Book Review”. MOLESTO: Edebiyat Araştırmaları Dergisi, c. 6, sy. 1, 2023, ss. 506-10.

Oğuzhan Ayrım

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