Motherhood and Sin Explored in John Milton's Paradise Lost

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Motherhood and Sin Explored in John Milton's Paradise Lost

There are very few representations of active motherhood in Paradise Lost, and of these, only one has a speaking role: Sin, the daughter of Satan and the mother of shapeless Death. While Milton portrays Nature and Earth as mother figures, and Eve¹s most common epithet is First Mother¹ or Mother of Mankind¹, none of these characters (or, failing that, images) is indicative of active motherhood. Eve has no children at any point in the poem, and as one of the primary conditions of motherhood is most likely that one will have had to have borne a child, she is not a viable choice for finding any representation of true motherhood. Sin is the reader¹s only model (as one of the two speaking female roles in the poem), and this model is, understandably, not the most encouraging. I submit, that as in reading the epic, one must always be careful of the hypocrisies and illogic of Satan, one must also assume that Sin as a mother is also a model almost wholly to be avoided as a paradigm of motherhood. From negating most of the aspects of the her relationship to Death, one may possibly arrive at something very close to Milton¹s views of ideal motherhood, just as Eve may be seen as very close to Milton¹s view of an ideal wife. From the act of conception to the very end of the poem itself, Sin is a wholly foul creature, and her maternal relationship to Death is twisted into a horrible parody, much like that of the infernal trinity of Satan, Sin, and Death. By analyzing most of the aspects of Sin and Death¹s relationship and negating them or straightening them point by point, I will arrive at a reliable definition (or failing that, a set of criteria) against which Milton would judge his ...

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...poem (again, apart from a reference to Nature as mother, which does not really act, and to Earth, which has the same problem, in my view), if only a negative model. Her actions and her thoughts are instructive enough, I believe, to get a sense of Milton's views on the issue, which (as far as I can see) are these: a mother is a creative entity, not a destructive one, who should guide her offspring toward a moral path, again not a destructive one, and who must know when to let the offspring go off and have their own lives. Perhaps, after this point, Milton would agree that she should remain an advisory figure, which does not come up in the poem, but is consistent with the available information as I have interpreted it. Simply put, Sin is a model most foul, in any capacity.

Works Cited

Milton, John. Ed. J. T. Shawcross. Paradise Lost. New York: Doubleday, 1990.

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