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Reflections of Milton in Paradise Lost and On Having Arrived
At a young age, John Milton was convinced that he was destined for
greatness. He thought that he "might perhaps leave something so written to
aftertimes as they should not willingly let it die"(Text 414). For this
reason he thought that his life was very important to himself and to others.
He often wrote directly about himself, and he used his life experiences as
roots for his literature. In Paradise Lost and in a sonnet entitled "On
His Blindness," Milton speaks indirectly and directly of his loss of vision.
Also in Paradise Lost, he uses the political situation of his time as a
base for the plot, and he incorporates elements of his own character into
the character of Satan. In "On Having Arrived at the Age of Twenty-Three",
he speaks plainly about the course of his life.
In the latter part of his life, Milton lost his vision. This loss was
very traumatic for him because he had not yet completed his mission of
writing a memorable work of literature. Soon after, he continued his work
with the help of his daughters. He dictated to them a sonnet he called "On
His Blindness" in which he asks how God expects him to do his work blind.
Milton's ambitious side says that his writing talent is "lodged with [him]
useless"(Text 417). His religious side soon realizes that he is
"complaining" to God and he takes it back. He discovers that God will not
look down on him if he does not write a masterpiece. He granted Milton a
great talent, and he expects Milton to be happy. He has to learn to do his
work in a dark world. This poem was not the last time Milton referred to
his condition in his writing. In book one of Paradise Lost, while invoking
the Muse, Milton says "what in me is dark illumine"(Hndout 22). He asks to
be granted the power to work through his blindness. He obviously thinks of
his blindness as a major weakness. Later in the text, he describes Hell as
having "no light, but rather darkness visible"(Hndout 270). It is Milton's
way of almost subliminally implying that his condition is comparable to
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being damned to the underworld. His blindness was something that he
constantly had to deal with and he managed to include it in most of his
At the prime of Milton's life, the political situation in England was
very unsteady. Charles I was overthrown, and the Puritan dictator Oliver
Cromwell installed himself as the "Lord Protector." Being a Puritan
himself, Milton supported this new government, and he even held a job
within it. But, England became tired of the strict Puritan rule, and
Cromwell's son was defeated, and hastily replaced by Charles II. Everyone
who supported Cromwell and the civil war was sentenced to death. Because
of his standing in the community, Milton was allowed to retire in peace.
As punishment he lost everything he had including his reputation. He would
use the events of his life to help him form the story for book one of
Paradise Lost. In his greatest work, Milton begins with a civil war in
Heaven during which Lucifer and Beelzebub are defeated and banished to Hell.
This event parallels the civil war within England with the Puritans as
Lucifer, and the rest of England as God. The Puritans tried to take over
England, but they were defeated after a number of years. Most of the
Puritan's were killed, Milton was banished from society. Lucifer was
banished to Hell, and he would forever lose his reputation as an archangel.
These similarities lead scholars to believe that Satan is Milton. Lucifer
says that they should make a "Heaven of Hell"(Hndout 280). This line shows
that Satan had the will to work through the bad times and make the best of
it. Milton acted the same way with his blindness. Milton seems to be a
part of Satan's character.
In book nine of Paradise Lost, Milton tells the story of the
temptation of Eve. Satan's argument with Eve reflects beliefs of Milton.
In deciding whether to convince Adam or Eve to eat from the tree of
knowledge, he does not choose Adam because he has a "higher intellectual"
capacity. At the time Milton lived, women were considered inferior to men.
Milton obviously supported this belief. By modern standards he would have
been considered sexist, by seventeenth century standards he was not.
Also in book nine, concerning the forbidden tree, Milton emphasizes
the great knowledge that can be gained from eating its fruit. Throughout
his life, he thought that continually learning was very important. He
spent part of his life living at home reading. Satan tells Eve that God
does not want them to become as knowledgable as he is. If she eats the
fruit, he tells her that she will know "both good and evil"(Text 293).
Milton's emphasis on the acquisition of knowledge implies that if he was
put into Eve's position, he would also betray God. Milton formulated an
argument that would have convinced himself.
In the earlier part of his life, Milton was often worried that he
would not do the work that he was destined to do. To express this feeling,
he wrote a sonnet called "On Having Arrived at the Age of Twenty-Three."
In it, he explains how he is getting older and he still does not have any
work done. He was concerned because he did not have an idea for what to
write. This work reflects his character because he could not think of
anything else but his life-long goal. He was very focused. It also shows
how he was egotistical. In his time, he was not well liked. Due to his
Puritan background and his egocentric personality, he was not respected by
more than a select few.
Throughout his life, John Milton believed that he would be remembered
as great. He was so self-absorbed that he was a major part of a lot of his
work. Also, he used his life and character to formulate Satan and Paradise
Lost. He thought he would be remembered and he was correct.