Paradise Lost | Study Guide

John Milton

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Paradise Lost | Discussion Questions 41 - 50

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What are the roles of Sin, Death, Chaos, and Night in Milton's Paradise Lost and why does the author make them both characters and concepts?

Sin, Death, Chaos, and Night are introduced in Book 2. Sin and Death are both Satan's children. Sin was spontaneously born from Satan's head, suggesting that the concept of sin also comes from the mind. Sin then gave birth to Death after Satan impregnated her through incest, representing the notion that a punishment of sinning is death. Chaos is considered to be the "matter" from which the universe was created, and Night is Chaos' companion. Yet they both aid Satan as characters in finding the new world, inferring that Chaos has no allegiance to God or Heaven but remains indifferent. Milton turns these "concepts" into allegorical characters to make it easier for the reader to visualize their roles in the story.

How does Milton convey Eve's characteristics through her initial appearance in Paradise Lost?

In Book 4 Eve's initial appearance is shown through a recollection of her memory. She saw her reflection in a pool of water and so admired her own beauty that she couldn't look away. Milton wants the reader to consider the idea that Eve is vain and self-centered, too preoccupied with her own beauty to pay much attention to other things, and that flattery will be the easiest way to tempt her. Satan also seems to know that flattery is the easiest way to trick Eve into eating the fruit. This portrait of Eve paints her as inferior to Adam.

In Milton's Paradise Lost, how does Adam's first memory differ from Eve's and what conclusions might be drawn because of the difference?

While Milton depicts Eve's first memory as one of self-obsession in Book 4, he paints Adam as innately curious about the world around him and intelligent as well. Adam is able to directly communicate with God and even though he doesn't understand where he came from, he is able to name all the animals in the Garden of Eden. Milton seems to be trying to point out that Adam is superior to Eve in many ways, both intellectually and physically. In this way, he also seems to be foreshadowing that much of the blame for the fall of man rests on Eve's shoulders.

In Milton's Paradise Lost, why does Satan give the council in Hell the illusion that he is considering their debate fairly when he has already made his decision?

In Book 2 Milton portrays Satan as a kind of military commander and strategist, and Satan seems to know that to keep an allegiance with the other fallen angels, he will need to make them feel like their ideas are heard and considered. He allows them to debate their ideas and pretends to give them all equal weight in his considerations, but he has already planted his plan in his mouthpiece Beelzebub. Satan knows that if the idea comes from someone other than him, the devils will be more likely to embrace it. His deception works and paves the way for him to "offer" to do the task of corrupting.

In Paradise Lost, how does Milton alter the traditional religious depiction of the Holy Trinity?

In traditional Christian theology, God, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all depicted as facets of the same entity. Since Paradise Lost is written with an emphasis on characters and their interactions and developments, Milton ran into a problem when trying to depict one character with three hard-to-differentiate parts. In the poem he makes God and the Son separate but related characters, with the Son often carrying out God's actions on his behalf. Milton does convey that he believes God and the Son are part of the Holy Spirit, but in order to keep them as understandable and distinct characters he needed to distinguish them. It is Satan's jealousy of the Son that spurs his rebellion of God, which sets the action of the poem into motion.

In Book 5 of Paradise Lost, why does God ask Raphael to warn Adam about the dangers of temptation even though he claims not to influence fate?

God instructs Raphael that "his [Adam] will though free/Yet mutable; whence warn him to beware." Here, God is still claiming that Adam has free will but that it is "mutable," meaning that it can be changed. This seems to run contrary to God's claim that he does not influence fate and warning Adam about the danger that Satan poses looks like he is directly interfering. But God's argument is that Adam should have all the information that he can about the temptation that lies ahead of him. God also doesn't want Satan to "win," which puts God in the conundrum of giving Adam just the right balance of free will and prior knowledge about possible future outcomes.

In Book 5 of Paradise Lost, why does Milton emphasize the story of Abdiel and what is Abdiel's motivation for repenting?

Abdiel is the only rebel angel who returns to God to repent and is rewarded. Milton has Raphael relay this story to Adam, and seems to suggest that it is never too late to repent for disobeying God, who will always welcome back and forgive his creatures. Abdiel faces mocking and harassment from his fellow rebel angels, but he follows his convictions and opposes the majority. For this action he is rewarded and heralded and held up as an example. Part of Abdiel's motivation seems to lie in his ultimate understanding that battling God is futile—he points out that God "formed the Powers of Heav'n/Such as he pleased, and circumscribed their being." Better to align oneself with the person who writes the rules.

In Milton's Paradise Lost, what is the effect of first encountering Adam and Eve through the eyes of Satan?

In Book 4 Milton makes a deliberate choice to initially show the reader Adam and Eve through Satan's eyes. The reader is able to experience the jealousy and despair that drives Satan to commit the corruption of man through Adam and Eve. In a way this furthers the experience of finding Satan a sympathetic character who is driven by anguish to extreme acts. On the other hand, the reader also sees Adam and Eve as impossibly innocent and knows that it will not last. This pitches the tragedy of Paradise Lost forward, and also tilts the reader's sympathy toward Adam and Eve for what they will lose.

In Paradise Lost, does Milton depict God's punishment of Adam and Eve as just?

While God gives Adam and Eve free will to choose to disobey him, he knows the outcome of their choices before they realize them. In Book 8 Raphael warns Adam about the temptations they will face, but like a parent, God allows them to make their own mistakes so that they will understand the consequences. As noted in Book 11, the consequences are dire: generations of suffering, pain and toil for both Adam and Eve. In this light, Adam and Eve are unjustly doomed before they have a chance. However, that idea flies in the face of free will so the punishment is indeed depicted as just.

In Milton's Paradise Lost, does Satan's boast that it is "Better to reign in hell, than serve in heav'n" come true for him?

This is the famous line uttered by Satan in Book 1 of Paradise Lost. While it's true that Satan no longer needs to answer to or obey God, he still is not as powerful as God, nor as all-seeing or all-knowing. Satan has admitted that his is full of jealousy, rage, doubt, and anguish, and his envy is sparked by briefly wishing that he could enjoy the innocence of Paradise. While he does have command over his council in Hell, he seems to also realize what he is missing out on by no longer serving God. Ultimately, Satan and the other fallen angels are punished again by God in Hell, turned into serpents and doomed to eat fruit that turns to ashes. Even if he still reigns there, he and the other fallen angels are miserable.

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