When considering examples of contemporary literature that embody subliminal philosophy, no greater example comes to mind that John Gardner's Grendel. Nearly every instance of modern philosophy, from solipsism to nihilism, is exemplified in the work. The most prevalent of these, however, is Existentialism. To understand this, one must first understand the basic concepts of Existentialist theory. There are five basic ideas on which the existential theory is founded. In their essence, they are as follows: "Mankind has free will; life is a series of choices that create stress; few decision s are without any negative consequences; some things are irrational or absurd, without explanation; if one makes a decision, he or she must follow through with it- (Wyatt). Loosely, it is the acceptance of the self as the dictators of one's own life events. In Existentialism, the individual no longer relinquishes their decision-making responsibilities to a God or like supernatural force. Rather it bases life and its events more on the responsibility brought on by man innate free will. In Existentialism, it is believed that human beings are at their best when challenging their greedy, imperfect nature and continuously attempting to improve. Knowing this, one may begin to explore theoretical Existentialism as it appears in Gardner's esteemed short novel.
Early in the novel, Existentialism does not truly present itself to the reader; but rather, solipsism and organized religion seem to present themselves in the foreground. In the third chapter, the Shaper is introduced. He appears to represent the God' of organized religion that ends or at least challenges Grendel's contemporaneous theories (primarily solipsism). This opening, or challenging, of his mind leads to an opening for the introduction of new theories and notions, presented by external sources later in the story. Thus, the Shaper plays an integral role in the development of Existentialism within the novel.