Humanity's Fall in John Milton's Paradise Lost

Humanity's Fall in John Milton's Paradise Lost

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Humanity's Fall in Paradise Lost

 
   The original sin that led to humanity's fall in the Garden of Eden

is by far the worst sin committed by humankind.  It is this sin that led to

future sins.  This original sin  must be emphasized by writers to depict

the evil involved in it.  In writing Paradise Lost, John Milton recognizes

this fact and uses a variety of literary techniques to stress the evil in

the story over the good.  The techniques used include a series of parallels

with the parallel between good and evil being first and foremost as well,

as symmetry to keep the poem in balance.  Paradise Lost is a poem

essentially about the origin of sin and evil, as a result, Milton presents

evil in a more coercive manner than good.

 

        Satan and his followers in Paradise Lost are presented as being

more evil than God and his disciples are good.  God addresses the Son to be

in the likeness of himself in Book three by saying, "The radiant image of

his glory sat, his only Son."(Bk. 3, 63-64).  Although this implies that

the Son is a model of perfection as is God, it does not clarify it by

stating it outright.  Milton definitely portrays Satan's evil in Book four

by asserting that Satan is hell and that evil is his good because good has

been lost to him. (Bk. 4, lines 75, 108-110).  Satan's moral state further

decays in Book nine as detailed in a soliloquy at the beginning of the book

by Satan.  Satan recognizes his descent into bestiality after once being in

contention with the gods to sit on top of the hierarchy of angels.  He is

unhappy with this "foul descent" and in turn wants to take out his grief on

humanity.  Despite recognizing that revenge eventually becomes bitter,

Satan wants to make others as miserable as he is.  It is i n destruction

that he finds comfort for his ceaseless thoughts.  (Bk. 9, lines 129-130,

163-165).  Satan is described at length in an epic simile that compares his

great size to that of mythical figures.  This simile drags on for sixteen

lines of direct comparison.  This comparison to mythical figures makes the

reader think more about the subject therefore invoking more thought about

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Satan's powerful stature.  Due to the drama and persuasiveness of Satan's

rhetoric, he is the most well developed character in Paradise Lost.

 

        Both the angels and devils and heaven and hell can be contrasted

along with Satan and the Son.  Milton depicts the angels as being in a

state of eternal joy by singing, "With jubilee, and loud hosannas filled

Th' eternal regions." (Bk. 3, lines 348-349.)  Nevertheless the angels are

not being presented with as much intensity as the devils are in Book one.

Despite having been cast to hell the fallen angels are still shown to

continue on in their old ways as if nothing has happened to them.  Mammon

leads some of the devils to the hills to loot gold. (Bk. 1, lines 670-690.)

Milton aptly describes the fallen angels by giving the names that they were

worshipped with and a succinct description.  Milton employs an epic simile

in Book one to exaggerate the number of fallen angels and hence the amount

of evil: "His legions, angel forms, who lay entranced, thick as autumnal

leaves that strow the brooks in Vallombrosa." (Bk. 1, lines 301-303.)  Hell

is described as the most appalling place in existence as i t is "A dungeon

horrible, on all sides round as one great furnace flamed; yet from those

flames no light, but rather darkness visible served only to discover sights

of woe." (Bk. 1, lines 61-64.)  The devils build a palace for themselves

called Pandemonium which means all-demons, in contrast to the Pantheon

which means all-gods.  This name demonstrates the absolute evil of the

building as it mocks any sentiment of goodness while at the same time

exhibiting the evil within.  In terms of evil and detail, Satan's

subordinates are presented in much the same way as himself.

 

        Humanity falls in the Garden of Eden because evil eventually

conquers good.  Because evil defeats good in Paradise Lost it must be

treated with more emphasis.  When the fall of humankind is being described

in Book nine, Satan is no longer described as a feeble underdog, he is now

a powerful leader filled with rage.  His rage is portrayed in Book nine

after he overcomes how beautiful Eve is, "But the hot Hell that always in

him burns, though in mid Heaven, soon ended his delight." (Bk. 9, lines

467-468.)  At first Eve resists the allure of the apple and the knowledge

that comes with it but she eventually gives in to the persuasive serpent,

thus departing from the realm of the innocent and stepping into the evil.

The simple act of Eve eating the apple serves as the climax of the book.

Milton builds up to this epic event by constructing the sentence in a

highly symmetrical manner.  Two clauses and one periodic sentence precede

the moment when Eve eats the apple.  This style of construction results i n

the meaning becoming clear only at the very end when she eats the apple.

 

        The portrayal of the council in hell is more powerful and detailed

than that of heaven.    The council in heaven mainly involves just the Son

and God whereas the council in Hell involves a multitude of devils in a

scene that has much more detail and emotion.  It is emotion that Milton

seeks to arouse when writing Book two.  The sense of grandeur that comes

with the epic poem is being evoked through the elevated style and the

comprehensiveness of the council scene.  The departure of Satan is much

more powerfully described than the departure of the Son:

 

                Then of their session ended they bid cry

                With trumpets' regal sound the great result:

                Toward the four winds four speedy cherubim

                Put to their mouths the sounding alchemy

                By herald's voice explained; the hollow abyss

                Heard far and wide, and all the host of Hell

                With deafening shout returned them loud acclaim

 

Milton uses the epic convention when writing Book two and in doing so

convinces the reader to believe that evil is poised to triumph over good.

 

        The fall in the Garden of Eden marks humanity's entry into a world

of sin forevermore.  It is because of the severity of this sin that evil is

portrayed in a much more convincing manner than good.  When writing this

poem Milton sought to coerce people into believing his view on the loss of

paradise.  He does not write it as a standard poem that is written in a non

bias way, instead he forces his view on the reader as if his opinion is the

way it is.

 

Works Cited and Consulted

Fish, Stanley Eugene. Surprised by Sin: The Reader in Paradise Lost. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1967.

Milton, John.  Paradise Lost.  The Norton Anthology of English Literature,

Sixth Edition, New York: Norton, 1996.

Patrides, C.A. Milton and The Christian Tradition. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966)

Weston, P. 'Paradise Lost- A Critical Study, Penguin  Middlesex, 1984.

 

 
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