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Paradise Lost | Study Guide

John Milton

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Book 11

Kristen Over, Associate Professor at Northeastern Illinois University, provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Book 11 of John Milton's book Paradise Lost.

Paradise Lost | Book 11 | Summary



God hears the prayers for forgiveness from Adam and Eve, and the Son convinces God to show them mercy. He also reminds God that he will sacrifice himself in death for their sins. God compromises by saying that although they will be punished, if they behave then they can live in Heaven after death. He sends the archangel Michael to remove Adam and Eve from Paradise. They are shocked by this announcement and worried that they will not be able to speak with God if they leave. They are comforted when Michael tells them that they can talk to God from anywhere, anytime.

After putting Eve into an enchanted sleep Michael shows Adam a vision of his future generations, beginning with the murder of his son Abel by his other son Cain. Adam is upset by this and by the knowledge of all the future suffering and death his offspring will face. Michael shows Adam another vision of his future generations, and this time the caution is about the temptation and desire of women. The final vision he shows Adam is of the story of Noah, who along with his family and animals is the only survivor of a deadly flood that God sends the world as punishment. Adam feels anguish over what he sees because he has caused this pain and has no way to change it. Adam is shown one final image of a rainbow, and he is heartened that his offspring will continue to survive through Noah.


The visions that Michael shows Adam are meant to inform him of the balance between man's capacity for sin and and his capacity for obedience. Michael is careful to encourage Adam and show him hope so he is not overwhelmed with despair. The visions are also a continuation of Milton's justification of the ways of God to human beings, since they show the rationale for God's punishment but also his capacity for renewing hope at times of despair. Despair is what corrupted Satan and made it impossible for him to repent, and God wants to ensure that Adam and Eve do not fall prey to it.

The stories of Enoch and Noah echo the story of Abdiel, the rebel angel who returned to God after turning his back on Satan. With these stories God wants to paint a portrait of those who follow their moral compass, even if they are the only ones willing to stand up for their beliefs in what is right and just. Milton uses these stories to strengthen his argument justifying the ways of God to men, since he had not yet fully explained why Adam and Eve's future generations would suffer so greatly for their one-time sin. With the visions presented, Adam's understanding of the effect of his sin, and why the consequences are necessary, deepens. God is saying that individual humans' actions have wider and more far-reaching effects than they can imagine.

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