Gold in Grendel

Gold has many different uses. In John Gardner’s novel Grendel, it is used
as a motif to symbolize different aspects of a character. Though it has a
constant meaning throughout the novel, it also differs according to each
character. Gardner uses gold as a symbol of majesty as well as protection, greed
and power throughout the novel especially related to the characters of the
Shaper, Hrothgar and the Dragon respectively.

To the Shaper, gold symbolizes majesty as well as protection. He was “beyond
the need of any shaggy old gold-friend’s pay (49).” The Shaper did not
merely work to earn his gold; he sang his songs of old because they were his
passion and his love. The king supported him, and that was all he needed. He had
no desire to obtain the gold, and in turn, he gained more. The gold was also his
protector. At the time of his death, the women covered his eyes with gold to
keep him from seeing where he went (145). It protected him from seeing the
corruption and greed in society. Because of this protection, he was able to keep
his focus on the inspiration of his songs.

Then there is Hrothgar, to whom gold symbolizes majesty as well as greed.
During the wars between the various kings, they threaten to steal each other’s
gold and burn the meadhalls (33). The gold became a symbol to the people of who
was the stateliest ruler between the Danes. The gold became their supremacy. To
Hrothgar, as well as the other kings, their gold symbolizes their greed for the
other’s kingdom and the other’s wealth. Hrothgar coveted the gold of other
kings and made it his quest to control what he wanted. Even his own sons did not
care about their father. They merely weighed his worth by how much gold he
possessed (53). Their greed for power outweighed their desire for justice in
ruling. They only wanted money.

To the Dragon, gold symbolizes majesty and power over humans. Gardner first
describes the Dragon as “vast and red-golden” with tusks that shimmered as
if they were made of gold(57). The dragon is very prestigious. He has the
demeanor of a ruler. He understands and he knows the future and sees that as a
form of power and control over everything. He persuades Grendel to attack the
humans because he knows that he will do it anyway(69). The dragon also knows
that he will also perish, so he wants to gather all the gold that he can to
display his power while he still lives. For, unlike Grendel, he “covets gold,
not souls (1).”

Gold can mean different things to different individuals. To some, like the
Shaper, it can cover their eyes from corruption. Yet, for others, like the
Dragon and Hrothgar, it can become the source of their corruption. Everything
depends on what their desire is.

Category: English