Evil And Temptation in Paradise Lost
In this essay we shall be discussing how Milton deals with the problems of both evil and temptation within Paradise Lost, ‘it focuses on God as a sign for authority and the status quo to Satan as a sign for the Other.’ . The time of which Milton was writing religion was highly influential; as it was a period in time in which England was very religious. In a sense that they were very drawn to the idea of having a God and there being a God, therefore dictating the ways in which individuals must live and behave within society. This also emphasizes the importance of hierarchy; this shall be later discussed within the essay. Milton’s Paradise lost is a version of the biblical story of Adam and Eve in which proceeds to the casting out of humanity from the garden of Eden as both Adam and Eve were led a stray by temptation from the devil in order to gain knowledge.
In the essay we shall also be discussing the actions of which are classified as evil and why. Whilst also looking at temptation and how within paradise lost it is directly impacted by evil, evil being seen as the the devil as he is the prime culprit when it comes to directing blame for acts of evil within Milton’s Paradise Lost. We shall also be discussing the connotations of evil such as ‘the serpent’, in which Satan uses to tempt Eve into eating from the tree of knowledge; the serpent, or snake is seen associated with evil. The serpent was seen as the thing that tempted Eve into going against God’s orders as Satan had shape shifted into this form and convinced her that by eating from the tree of knowledge it allowed him to speak as well know so much more. Within Paradise Lost there are an extensive amount of themes being thrown about whether it be evil, temptation, free will, knowledge.
There is a lot to gather about the Christian belief from the story, such as the idea that Adam and Eve were made purely to serve God and obey his commands but this form of peace and serenity is destroyed by the temptation of Eve by Satan. This is highlighted in later writings from writers after Milton ‘When our first parents ate the apple, good and evil leaped forth as a monstrous birth, compounding elements that had hitherto been separate. This corruption, this muddying of the pure waters of truth, was the object of Satan’s voyage’ .
‘Satan and his minions were once angels; through ambition and self-interest, coveting ‘honor and empire’, and pleading reason of state, they fell.’ This states that Satan only became the symbol of evil as he chose to go against God; resulting in him being cast out of Heaven and those who followed his ideals went with him to hell in which Satan is seen to have later transferred into his own home, the war in which Satan raged against God was futile as God is seen as this all powerful, all knowing, all seeing figure. This portrays the idea of a leviathan rule; in which it could be compared. In some critiques of Paradise Lost or just the story of Adam and Eve as well as the story of the war against God, God is almost seen to be toying with Satan as God knows he was always going to win this battle against Satan ‘God had previously intended to give Satan a wrong metaphysical argument when he made the War in Heaven last three days.’ .
In some cases God could be viewed not as someone that is all loving but as some form of tyrant; or dictator in which would be a more accurate description of the spiritual figure, this is backed up by the statement ‘God then turns all of the rebels into snakes, thus proving to them that he was only playing cat and mouse all the time; and then of course turns them back, so they may continue to work upon mankind.’ , this portrays God as someone that can be viewed as a tormentor as he seems almost childlike in his actions as previously stated. Although it could be said that ‘Milton’s God is a father, a creator, and a lover of humankind, his children. As a world-maker, he is an artist, and all artists or creators since have imitated him… Milton’s God is the patriarchal figure of authority.’ , this also shows that God obviously thinks lowly of snakes and reptiles. Furthermore, it could be argued that Milton doesn’t fully believe this idea himself as he points out Gods flaws quite frequently throughout the story, this shall be mentioned within the essay and developed on.
Arguably, making it seem as if he himself could be seen as somewhat evil considering the some of his actions could be compared to the actions of Satan in a sense that he holds up this false ideal of being ‘good’ and ‘all loving’. ‘But surely one must feel horror at the God who has deliberately reduced him to such a condition.’ , this quote helps to support the next point that will be used to defend the point in which God could be viewed as a tyrant; God acts like this foreboding figure in a sense that he toys with the fallen. The fact he turns those who went against him into snakes and then turns them back into their original forms in order to be sent back to Earth to torment humans as well as test them to see if they are worthy of joining their ‘father’ in heaven.
This quote could be used to support this point ‘Sometimes it is projected and contained in the oscillating figure of Satan, who is demonically or allegorically characterized so as to typecast and reduce what he represents. Sometimes, as in the account of human history in the last books, evil, though equally un-seductive, is dispersed and therefore insidious in its workings, granted a real and empirical power.’ .
Due to this perception of God ‘Satan evokes many readers’ sympathy both because of what he says himself and of what the narrator, perhaps not quite intentionally, reveals about him. We are told he is capable of love and jealousy, despair and remorse.’ , therefore, allowing some form of emotional attachment to form from the reader. Although, at the same time within the story the reader is being told not to sympathize with Satan for he is the opposite of God; and anything that goes against God is automatically sinful and will result in bad consequences; but this ideal still causes some form of sympathy.
Not only do we sympathize for Satan we also sympathize for humans who are tempted, or tricked into going against God as Adam and Eve were. In addition to this Satan is soon portrayed as ‘ the great seducer (he leads people or other angels away from God), manipulator, and charismatic tyrant.’ , causing the reader to re-evaluate their sympathies and feelings towards him as they may view it as a form of manipulation in order to gain their sympathy that Satan used. It could be critiqued that temptation is viewed as a type of evil this is seen within Paradise Lost when God punished both Adam and Eve; even though it was mainly Eve’s fault as she allowed herself to fall into Satan’s trap. The
Evil is seen to have been made from the act of temptation in which both Eve and Satan share responsibility for as Eve was the first to be tempted by Satan; this also allows us to view Eve as the weaker gender as women were seen as weaker than men. This is emphasized by the fact that Eve was said to have been made from the rib of Adam, in which allowed the hierarchy in which women came last, men second and God first, as God is seen as the highest power. It could be argued that Eve was made as a temptation or test for Adam. Although, you can see that Eve acknowledges her placement within the hierarchy she uses the love of which Adam has for her to persuade him to do things in which leads to the downfall of the two.
‘The theme of temptation was certainly important, judging by his final choice of subjects: Adam and Eve tempted by Satan to disobey’ , therefore causing God to punish them by casting them out into the world to fend for themselves but they are still given the option of free will. In addition to this it could argued, that evil was made when Satan was cast out of heaven with the fallen; as when he had been cast out and after he escaped the bounds of God and created hell and made it his home and found that he had children ‘Sin’ and ‘Death’. ‘In addition, in Book X Keats underscores a reference to Sin and Death as Satan’s “children dear” (X.330). The appeal here, as in the reference to Sin as Satan’s ‘daughter dear’ cited in Keats’s note, seems to be the pathos of family feeling existing among monstrous creatures like Satan, Sin and Death.’ , this portrays the idea that due to the separation that Satan has created his own monsters.
Therefore, is left to deal with the consequences which are his children ‘Sin’ and ‘Death’ this is used as a reason that God should further punish Satan, but instead of punishing him he uses Sin and Death as a punishment and a way to limit those who want to enter Heaven, ‘There is no power but of God’ is not simply a statement of fact, but a test of human judgment, an exercise in deliberating about the best way to achieve ‘common peace and preservation’. And such exercise is necessary because power is morally indifferent, and may be used well of badly.’ .
This supports the idea that evil comes in all shapes and sizes, in addition to this the fact that Satan can shape shift and has done so many times throughout the story, the fact it a continuous trait throughout the story it also highlights the way in which Satan changes somewhat mentally as well as physically. ‘The world is physically frail, its crystal shell subject to the invasions of Satan, Sin and Death; and the men who live there are prey to the moral weakness that we sum up in the expressions “human frailty”’. , this quote supports the idea previously mentioned as God being some form of tyrant as he allows Sin and Death to roam the Earth after he cast out Adam and Eve, which could arguably viewed as Satan winning in a sense but then again he doesn’t as God still has power over him; this is due to the fact God had given him and the rest of the fallen who follow him the powers of which they all possess.
Although, God can easily take them away he doesn’t allow them to torment and use mankind as a form of ammunition against God in order to build up the trapped souls in hell. ‘Thus evil is portrayed grotesquely and allegorically in the account of Satan, Sin and Death, psychologically in the temptation, and historically in the last books.’ , this quote also helps to explain how Satan and his children and followers are viewed as they are portrayed of the image of evil and the reason it exists.
Finally, within the story Satan uses the sympathy he gains from the readers to portray himself as this kind of heroic figure in which he is not as Milton points out at other point during the story but neither is God. Although, Milton continues to try and remind us throughout the story that Satan is the bad person as ‘Satan and his minions were once angels; through ambition and self-interest, coveting ‘honor and empire’, and pleading reason of state, they fell.’ , this could be said to be somewhat heroic though but Milton quickly hides attempts to hide that with the whole Satan is evil because he went against God idea.
Furthermore, within Paradise Lost neither God or Satan can be seen as heroes as they both have their faults are quite open about then Satan more than God clearly as most if not all of Satan’s flaws are highlighted before later emphasized within this story. Whereas, God is constantly making mistakes throughout the story as he lets everything occurring in the story to happen without really preventing it, just using his power to punish those who go against him which again supports the tyrant idea that can be seen throughout out the story which in turn could really and truly see God as the evil one and Satan as the one who wants to prevent this evil but going around it in the wrong way. ‘One thing about Satan diminishes him and should not be forgotten: he is only God’s errand boy. As he himself says, the fallen angels “do [God’s] errands in the gloomy Deep” (1.152).’ this quote continues to support the last idea mentioned within the essay, God only uses those viewed as beneath him (which in reality is everyone) as pawns within his game of chess which is life in other words; or time.
To conclude, it could be argued that Milton used the themes of evil and temptation in order to show the importance of them ‘The theme of temptation was certainly important, judging by his final choice of subjects: Adam and Eve tempted by Satan to disobey.’ ; even though had no real reason to tempt Adam and Eve other than to go against God some more and get more people on his side whether it be by free will or by force to disrupt God’s plan, this is portrayed as a form of protest in order for Satan to be fully free from God. As well as this, God seemed to have planned everything out either way as he is seen as this omniscient figure in which he clearly is; as he knew Satan would betray him.
Therefore, resulting in the fall of man later on within time, so in fact Satan did not at all ruin Gods plans but in fact helped him in a sense. ‘There is no power but of God’ , previously mentioning this statement it could be argued that Milton in conclusion of Paradise Lost accepts that God isn’t the only power there is, Satan is clearly another powerful figure within life, especially human life. We shall be finalizing the argument with the quote ‘There is no power but of God’ is not simply a statement of fact, but a test of human judgment, an exercise in deliberating about the best way to achieve ‘common peace and preservation’. And such exercise is necessary because power is morally indifferent, and may be used well of badly.’ , as the God Milton seems to believe in is somewhat of a fairytale as he is not portrayed within Paradise Lost but instead portrayed as a bystander as he watches as his work get’s destroyed and tainted by evil and temptation.
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