What is the role of the Dragon in John Gardner's Grendel?

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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.

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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 ...

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