Term Paper: Grendel by John Gardner

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[. . .] All these simply emphasize to Grendel the pain of his loneliness that he tries to conceal with cruelty.

In this way Gardner attempts to bring home to his readers the virtues of morality by using his fiction as a moral force. He takes it as his task to educate a society which has, like Grendel, become confused and hurt. According to Gardner then, fiction serves the purpose of demonstrating to society the truth of morality. He attempts to bring back the knowledge of human morality to a society that fails in this knowledge. In an ever greater attempt to possess material things, morality has become lost in the confusion. This is the knowledge that Gardner is attempting to restore. Fiction, while not being true in terms of everyday reality, is still based in fact. Thus the use of this element to educate people in the truth of human life is an entirely valid exercise.

Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

The Development and Validity of Knowledge

Vonnegut's novel concerns the main character and narrator, John, whose journeyentails writing a book about the day when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. This is his main search for knowledge. His search leads him to Newt Hoenikker, the midget son of Felix Hoenikker, one of the fathers of the atomic bomb. He does not acquire any factual knowledge about the effects of the bomb, but he does gain human insight into Felix.

John and the reader are presented with a disturbing image of a childlike scientist who is driven by nothing apart from curiosity. He also does not care much for people, and innocently continues his quest for knowledge and the development of new things. This results in destruction first through the atomic bomb and then through ice-nine, an isotope of water that becomes solid at room temperature. When John reveals that he is disturbed by the implications of such a development, Felix is childishly offended and sends him away.

Thus, while searching for factual knowledge for his book, John uncovers a knowledge that is far more dangerous. Felix's innocent search for more and more knowledge results in disaster upon disaster. His children, also apparently innocent and harmless, together cause mass destruction on earth through the ice-nine.

The above search for knowledge then represents the relentless modern search for new knowledge and development. It is difficult to keep up with all the scientific advances of the modern age. Vonnegut thus comments upon society by providing his readers with a critical view of the icons of their culture. These include science, religion, and family. Vonnegut uses humor to bring to his readers' knowledge the serious implications of human stupidity and indifference in a world where technology allows mass destruction.

Understanding Humanity through Fiction

Vonnegut, like Gardner, uses his fiction to comment upon the dangers inherent in knowledge with no responsibility. The scientists in Cat's Cradle are childish, easily angered, and entirely ignorant of the destruction they are capable of. Felix only looks as far as solving the mud problem during war conditions. When his view is challenged, he is angry and will speak of it no more, like a child.

The search for knowledge should therefore be conducted with greater caution and responsibility than has been the case so far. Vonnegut uses an example from reality, the bom in Hiroshima, to drive home his point. In trying to find answers about the past, the narrator finds the grim potential for future destruction.

Thus, Vonnegut raises a valid point about human knowledge in the twentieth century. The ever-increasing pace of scientific development as well as industrialization brought an explosive element to the already existing conflicts of religion, class and international entities. While it is true that such advances have brought a better standard of living to many, there is also the frightening component of increased human suffering.

Thus, through the person of Felix and his children, Vonengut condemns the scientific community that discovered antibiotics, but that also brought about destruction through the atomic bomb, nerve gas, automatic firearms, and other extremely efficient ways of destroying human lives. Thus, through a fictional search of knowledge, the reader is shown a knowledge of human reality that is chilling to contemplate.


Gardner, J. Grendel. Vintage Books, 1989

Vonnegut, K. Cat's Cradle.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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