Paradise Lost | Study Guide

John Milton

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

Paradise Lost | Themes


Obedience and Disobedience

Paradise Lost is a cautionary tale: the characters in it can be categorized according to who is obedient to God and who is disobedient. Everyone's relationship to God depends on this factor, as do their punishments and rewards. Satan's rebellion is seen as the largest act of disobedience in the epic, followed closely by the fall of Adam and Eve. Milton infers that the order of the world depends on obedience to God, and so the punishment for disobedience is of equal and just proportion to the sin. To sin is to disobey God and to upset the balance of goodness in the world.

Sin and Innocence

Milton depicts innocence in great detail, from the innocence of angels to the innocence of Adam and Eve in Paradise before the fall. Innocence is at the opposite end of the spectrum from sin, and for Adam and Eve it is closely connected to their ignorance. When Adam and Eve lose their innocence, it is because they disobey God's instructions and bring sin into the world. Once they have sinned, they can never be innocent again.

Fate and Free Will

Paradise Lost presents a puzzling conundrum: if God has knowledge of everything that has happened and will ever happen, and also possesses the power to change anything, do his creatures really have free will? Milton tries to make the case that God is careful not to influence his creatures but to leave their individual choices to them even when he can see the outcome. He does this because he wants all his creatures to obey him out of love form him, not because they are forced to.

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