Satire In Grendel Essay, Research Paper
“The state is an organization of violence, a monopoly in what it is pleased to call legitimate violence (Gardner, 119).” This excerpt from John Gardner’s Grendel shows one of the many issues he deals with in his satire of man, and that is the issue of the use of violence in society. Gardner shows this throughout the book, but most prominently in chapter eight, in which we learn of the arrival of Hrothulf, Hrothgar’s nephew, at Herot. Hrothgar recognizes the evil in Hrothgar’s kingdom. He discusses the problems of the government with an old man known as “Red Horse”. The point made in the opening quote is that “Men’s violence is chained to good (i.e., to the king): legitimate force that chops off the bread-thief’s neck and wipes its axe. Death by the book (Gardner, 114).” This means that the government punishes civilian violence, as well as other crimes, by using the same violence it has prohibited, but viewing it as “legitimate” violence. Hrothulf states that “by violence they lock us in – you and me, old man: subdue our vile, unkingly violence (Gardner, 114)”. This points out the wrongdoing of the government and demonstrates it by showing how the ruling class uses the same violence it condemns to punish and control the population when they step out of line. This is a satirical look at our sense of freedom. As a society, we often feel we are free. But are we? What is this freedom we think we have? Gardner shows us that the government’s main objective is to “satisfy the greed of the majority, the rest will do you no harm. That’s it. You’ve still got your fiction of consent (Gardner, 118)”. And if things go wrong, the government’s immediate reaction is to use force to gain their objective. The chapter states that “when men quit work, the police move in. If the borders are threatened, the army rolls out (Gardner, 119)”. Therefore, the state is always in control. The people have freedom, but only to do what is acceptable to those in power. Is that true freedom? Gardner believes it is not. “Public force is the life and soul of every state: not merely army and police but prisons, judges, tax collectors, every conceivable repression (Gardner, 119).” So even though we believe we live in a free society, we are truly controlled and kept in line by the government at all times. For all of the pride humankind takes in its established government systems, they are flawed. And as for glorious revolutions that change the face of the government or replace one government with another, they are truly and “simply the pitting of power against power, where the issue is freedom for the winners and enslavement of the rest (Gardner, 119)”. The idea that there is a definite “good” force and a definite “bad” force when it comes to violence is mocked in the chapter. Violence is violence. “Why does the bread-thief die and the murdering thane escape by the costliest of advocates? (Gardner, 114).” The answer is that in the giving of “Rewards to those who fit the system best (Gardner, 118)”, conversely, those who do not fit the system are harshly, unjustly punished through the use of “legitimate” violence, while the true murderers run free. The character of Red Horse sends the message that “All systems are evil. All governments are evil. Not just a trifle evil. Monstrously evil (Gardner, 120)”. Nothing demonstrates this better than man’s overwhelming hypocracy when it comes to violence. I would agree with John Gardner that society is corrupt because of this hypocracy.