Paradise Lost | Study Guide

John Milton

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Paradise Lost | Book 10 | Summary

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Summary

God knows instantly that Adam and Eve have eaten from the Tree of Knowledge. He reassures the guardian angels of Paradise that it was he who allowed Satan to sneak in, because he does not control Satan or Adam or Eve—they have free will. The Son is sent to Paradise to give God's judgment to Adam and Eve. The Son has offered to sacrifice himself on mankind's behalf for the sins of Adam and Eve, and he travels to the Garden of Eden to find them. He calls them out of hiding, and they are ashamed. The Son asks them about eating from the Tree of Knowledge, and Adam admits that while Eve ate it first, he did not refuse when she offered it to him. The Son points out that Adam placed Eve above God, obeying his wife rather than divine command. Eve tells the Son that she was tempted into eating from the Tree of Knowledge by a serpent, and so the Son condemns the serpent to always slither on the ground rather than walk upright. The Son also tells Adam that all his descendants will be punished by having to toil for their food, and he tells Eve that as a consequence of her disobedience she and all her descendants will be forced to suffer pain in childbirth and, as a lesson for not listening to Adam, will be forced to submit to their husbands.

As Satan leaves Paradise he is greeted by his children, Sin and Death, who have built a bridge from Hell to Earth in anticipation of the fall and its possibility for corruption. Satan is pleased and sends them along to Earth to continue his work. Their entrance on Earth changes it, introducing the concepts of sin and death to man. Satan returns to Hell and announces to his followers that his mission was a success and that he has effectively corrupted God's new creation. Before his followers can congratulate him they turn into snakes along with Satan as punishment from the Son.

God is upset at the effect that Sin and Death have on his new creation but realizes that he will have to let them stay because he cannot interfere with free will. However, he decrees that when Judgment Day arrives, they will be sent back to Hell. God then commands his angels to change the new world to reflect the fall of mankind, making its weather less pleasant and creating discord among animals and man. Adam and Eve notice the difference in their world and are upset; they don't understand why their descendants must be punished as well. They argue but ultimately agree to stop fighting about who is at fault. They both ask God to forgive them.

Analysis

Book 10 is the last book in which many of the main characters appear; Satan, his children, and the devils are gone in the rest of the epic. The Son's handling of the punishment of Adam and Eve is not cruel, as he tries to explain God's rationale for why it must happen. He even provides them with clothes because they have felt shame since the fall. Through these acts God shows that he is a kind ruler of man rather than an unjust punisher. This is the culmination of Milton's stated intention in telling the story of Paradise Lost, to justify the ways of God to man.

The bridge from Hell to Earth creates an easier path for Satan and his followers to tempt man into Hell, while the stairway to Heaven has been removed, making its entrance more difficult for man. God's removal of the stairway is also meant to show that God is changing the new world to reflect the fall of man. Eve's forced subjugation to Adam also reflects a situational irony: where she hoped to be his equal, she is now doomed forever to be subordinate.

Satan soon realizes that he has not escaped God's punishment, since he and his followers are turned into snakes, and God also chooses a punishment to fit the crime: for them to always desire fruit that turns to ashes when bitten into. Yet God makes a distinction between Satan's punishment and man's punishment: since Adam and Eve ask for forgiveness, God will be merciful to them, while Satan and his followers are doomed forever because they are incapable of feeling sorrow.

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