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Paradise Lost | Study Guide

John Milton

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Kristen Over, Associate Professor at Northeastern Illinois University, explains the symbols in John Milton's book Paradise Lost.

Paradise Lost | Symbols


Scales of God

While God rarely intercedes personally with his creatures—choosing instead to send intermediaries such as angels or the Son—he sends a powerful sign to Satan when he prepares to battle Gabriel in Paradise. God sends up a vision of scales in the sky, and on each side he depicts the outcome of Satan's actions. If Satan battles Gabriel, it will be pointless, but if he leaves, the consequences are less. In this way God demonstrates the ultimate power and knowledge he has over Satan and how pointless it is to try to outwit or go against him.

Fruit from Tree of Knowledge

The fruit symbolizes the temptation to gain knowledge that only God should know. God forbids Adam and Eve from eating it, which makes them desire it even more. Satan ultimately tempts Eve into eating it first, and he uses flattery and deception to manipulate her desire. Adam eats it because of his love for Eve, and it causes both of them to fall from their innocent and ignorant state. To disobey God is to sin, and this is the first sin for which all future generations will be punished.

Garden of Eden

The Garden of Eden symbolizes the innocence and ignorance of Adam and Eve. It is a peaceful and bountiful place, full of gentle animals and food. Nothing bad ever happens, and Adam and Eve are happy there. Yet the Garden also contains the forbidden Tree of Knowledge, from which God has instructed Adam and Eve not to eat. This symbolizes that even in innocence temptation lurks, as does the potential for disobedience and sin. Once Adam and Eve disobey God, they are banished from the Garden, and the world around them changes to become more hostile. Though they have gained knowledge, they have lost innocence and access to the peaceful realm it inhabited.

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