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Paradise Lost | Study Guide

John Milton

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Book 9

Kristen Over, Associate Professor at Northeastern Illinois University, provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Book 9 of John Milton's book Paradise Lost.

Paradise Lost | Book 9 | Summary



Book 9 details the climax of Adam and Eve's story, the fall of man. The story begins with Satan, who has been in hiding after being banished from the Garden of Eden. Satan sneaks back into the Garden disguised as a mist. Once inside the Garden, he transforms into a snake. He experiences one final moment of hesitation over what he's about to do to Adam and Eve, but his resentment of them prompts him to continue.

Adam and Eve arise in the morning and argue over whether to work in the Garden together or separately. Adam experiences a sense of foreboding at Eve's suggestion that they work separately, believing that they are more likely to give in to temptation if they aren't by each others' side. However, Eve points out that there is a lot of work to be done and argues that she can't really be considered virtuous if she is always being protected and her virtue is never actually tested. So they separate, unaware that this will be their last innocent experience together in the Garden.

Satan finds Eve alone and speaks to her in the form of a serpent. Eve asks him how he learned to speak, and Satan tells her about eating fruit that gave him the power to speak and understand everything. He offers to show her where to find the fruit and leads her to the Tree of Knowledge. Eve recognizes it as the tree from which God has forbidden her and Adam to eat. Satan tries to persuade her that the knowledge the fruit gave him revealed that Eve should, in fact, disobey God to show Him that she is able to think for herself. Satan points out that he ate from the tree and is still alive. He reassures Eve that God would never punish her for something as trivial as eating fruit. Satan also flatters Eve, saying that if she eats the fruit, it is likely that she will gain the knowledge required to become a goddess.

Eve considers Satan's argument and takes into account that the snake ate it and did not die. She's tempted by the fruit's beauty and taste, and, attracted by the idea of having greater knowledge and intelligence, she finally takes a bite. Satan slithers away into the forest, and Eve continues to feast on the fruit. Eve considers offering Adam some of the fruit because she believes that eating it has raised her up to his level and she treasures the idea of being his equal. Eventually she decides to share the fruit since if she must die for her disobedience, she wants Adam to die with her. She finds Adam and explains what has happened and how she came to eat the fruit. Adam is shocked and upset but resolves to eat the fruit as well because he does not want to live without Eve. He eats the fruit, and he and Eve consummate their newfound knowledge, having sex because of physical lust rather than marital love. They wake later only to lament what they have done and feel shame. They begin to fight, blaming each other for what has transpired.


Milton describes the unfolding events in Book 9 as a tragedy, and he means not only that what happens to Adam and Eve is tragic, but also that Paradise Lost itself should be considered a work of tragedy along the same lines as the epic tragedies that preceded it. Milton believed that Paradise Lost should be considered the most epic tragedy of all because it is about the downfall of humankind. In classical terms, a tragedy involves a character of high status who has an error in his or her character called a tragic flaw. This flaw leads to the downfall of the character or characters. In a work of tragedy, the punishment of the downfall must exceed the crime and lead the audience to pity the outcome. In Paradise Lost, the tragedy is that both Adam and Eve have tragic flaws and their flaws lead not only to their downfall, but to the downfall of the human race.

Satan's logic about God seems to have degenerated since the beginning of Paradise Lost. He doubts whether God even created angels and believes that God is trying to get revenge on him with the creation of man. Satan appears to believe his own version of events, but rather than having independent and appealing logic of his own, he simply seems delusional. Milton shows here that the free will that God has endowed creatures with can be a double-edged sword, turning their minds into their own worst enemies.

Satan's tempting of Eve plays into the sense of narcissism that found her staring at her own reflection when she was created. He flatters her and tells her how beautiful she is, how like a goddess, and this approach holds her attention. The fact that Eve is tempted to keep the fruit to herself rather than sharing with Adam shows her changing way of thinking: she is beginning to lose her innocence and keep secrets, even hoping to manipulate Adam into loving her more. Even though she decides to share the fruit with Adam, her reasons are selfish: she doesn't want Adam to be with another woman if she dies. Adam's choice to eat the fruit is not motivated by the same reasons as Eve's; his desire is to stay with her no matter the cost. In this way he places Eve over God—valuing her too much, as Raphael warned him—which is a sin of disobedience.

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