I taught Beowulf to my gifted high school seniors for many years. My students’ reaction to Grendel was immediate, predictable, revulsion. The first image to ponder is Grendel’s rage as he is excluded, night after night, from the singing and laughter in Hrothgar’s hall. Excluded. Night after night after night. As his rage grows, so do his atrocities.
It is not difficult to transit from that image to a more familiar one: someone seen in the halls and classrooms every day, someone who is the butt of cruel jokes and ridicule, someone who reacts to his peers’ rejection of him with adopted bravado, with feigned indifference, with boastful lies and posturing—all of which serve only to increase their contempt, their exclusion of him.
It’s also not difficult this morning to look at the face of the young man named Cruz and see Grendel—once again.
Last night, a newswoman with ashes on her forehead referred repeatedly in righteous anger to this young man as a “monster.” We create our own monsters.