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Paradise Lost | Book 2 | Summary

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Summary

With Satan sitting on an elaborate throne, the council convenes to debate the next move. One devil, Moloch, makes the case for an all-out war against God and Heaven, arguing that they have nothing to lose because they are already in Hell. Another devil, Belial, disagrees, suggesting that they do nothing. He believes that God may eventually become less angry and dispense with their suffering. Mammon, a third devil, says that trying to return to Heaven would be useless. He suggests that they make Hell a domain that would be comparable to Heaven. Finally Beelzebub, Satan's second-in-command, suggests that the devils find God's new world and either conquer it for themselves or corrupt its inhabitants, mankind. The idea is actually Satan's, but he has Beelzebub suggest it so that he can volunteer and look heroic to the other devils. The council agrees and decides to use God's new creation, man, as a tool in their war. Satan sets out to find the new world where man resides. He flies out of the Gates of Hell with the help of his children, Death and Sin.

On the other side of the Gates of Hell are Chaos and Night, the "dark materials" that God uses to create worlds. They give him directions to Earth after Satan promises to turn the universe back over to them to control. Satan approaches Earth with God watching him all the while. Even though God has ordained that man has free will, he knows that Satan will succeed in corrupting man. God warns that although man can be saved, he must accept that death is a just punishment for his sins.

Analysis

Milton continues his allusions to Satan as a military commander when he shows the council of devils debating strategies to defeat God. Though they seem to have an orderly debate, none realize that Satan has already decided what will be done: he is letting them believe they have some kind of say in the matter. It's possible that Milton is satirizing what he saw as the corruptness and ineffectualness of politics here—that under the illusion of orderly proceedings and polite discussion, puppet strings are secretly being pulled by those in power. Satan is also compared to a Persian or Indian ruler in an implicit criticism of monarchy; because God is the only true king, Satan's rich throne indicates the empty, corrupt splendor of all earthly kings.

By focusing on the complaints of the devils, Milton continues to portray them as sympathetic; they are forced to do God's bidding without any say in the matter and without really understanding that God knows and controls the outcome of everything. This relates to the epic's overall theme of fate and free will, since Satan believes that God restricts his ability to be free. Yet Satan does not seem to question why, if God rules every action and has prior knowledge, he would be "allowed" to leave Hell and fly to Earth to corrupt God's new creation.

Sin, Death, Chaos, and Night are all literal characters in Paradise Lost as well as allegories—they represent a larger concept. Through the characters of Sin and Death, Milton seems to be suggesting that sin and death arise from disobeying God's wishes. Satan creates Sin from his mind after becoming jealous of the Son, and so Sin becomes both an idea and a character. By colluding with Satan, Death and Chaos help bring the concepts of sin and death into the earthly world.

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