Paradise Lost by John Milton: Summary and Critical Analysis

The fable or story of the epic is taken from the Bible; it is the simple and common story of the fall of Adam and Eve from the grace of God due to their disobedience of Him. Paradise Lost encompasses a little more of the biblical story. In heaven, Lucifer (who became Satan after his being thrown to the hell), was unable to accept the supremacy of God, and led a revolt against His divine authority. After a terrible war with His Angels, he was finally thrown into hell, where they lay nine days in a burning lake.

John Milton (1608-1674)

Then Lucifer arose from the burning pitch and resolved- though at the same time despairing – that “all was not lost,” that he would take revenge on God. Arousing his friends, he did his best to bring them to spirits, and decided that his purposes could be achieved by guile rather than by force; he decided to take revenge on God by spoiling his latest creation the Eden and the human beings there. The devils built an elaborate palace, Pandemonium, in which Satan organized a conference to decide on immediate action. Moloch advised war. Belial recommended a slothful existence in Hell.

Mammon proposed peacefully improving hell so that it might equal and rival Heaven. Beelzebub, second in command, arose and informed that God and created Earth, which he had peopled with good creatures called humans. It was Beelzebub’s proposal to investigate this new creation, seized it, and seduces its inhabitants to the cause of the fallen angels, and saw Satan approaching Earth. God’s angel Gabriel under the command of God, appointed two other angels to safeguard Adam and Eve, but they arrived too late to prevent Satan. He had already influenced Eve’s dreams. Eve, in her strange dream had been tempted to taste the fruit of the Tree of knowledge. After the sinful act of disobedience had been committed, God sent the angel Raphael to the garden to warn them. Raphael told Adam and Eve in detail the story of the Great War between the god and the bad angles (many of such stories are told in such conversation and flashback). He told of the creation of the world and how the Earth was created in six days and angelic choir singing the praises of God or the seventh days. He cautioned Adam not to be too curious. Adam then told how he had been warned against the Tree of knowledge of God and Evil, and how Eve was created from his rib. After the departure of Raphael, Satan entered the body of a sleeping serpent. In the mourning Eve proposed that they work apart. Adam, remembering the warning of Raphael, opposed her wishes, but Eve prevailed and the couple parted. Alone, Eve was accosted by the serpent, which flattered her into tasting the fruit of the Tree of knowledge. Eve gave the fruit to Adam, who was at first horrified, but who in his love for Eve, also ate the fruit. Just after eating the forbidden fruit, the couple knew lust for the first time. They knew sickening shame. The guardian angel came to earth to pass judgment. Christ sentenced the serpent to be forever a hated enemy of mankind. He also announced punishment of Eve; her sorrow would be multiplied by the bearing of children and that she would be the servant of Adam to the end of time. Adam, said Christ, would eat in sorrow, would eat bread only by toiling and sweating. This was the curse to man. But more important, he lost God’s grace. As Christ announced the punishment, Death and sin, left the gates of Hell to join their father Satan on Earth. Satan sent sin and Death as his ambassadors on Earth. He went back to hell to see that his followers had all become hissing snakes. God made great changes on earth. He replaced the eternal spring with the changing seasons; he created the violence and misery of storms, winds, hail, ice, floods and earthquakes; he sentenced Adam and Eve to expulsion from Eden. Adam and Eve thought of committing suicide, but Michael, the angel sent by God, gave them new hope; he gave Adam a vision of life and death, the rise and fall of kingdoms and empires, and also showed them how the future Adam and Eve’s progeny would go through their evil days, to the flood when God would destroy all life except the good seeds preserved by Noah, and be finally redeemed through Christ’s incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension as the redeemer. After Michael gave Adam and Eve this vision, they were pacified, especially because they saw that their children would be saved. They walked from the heights of paradise to the barren plains below. Metaphorically, they fell from the original bliss of god’s grace to the present state of mortality, guilt, shame and suffering.

This simple story of ‘fall’ has become a locus of many times after Milton used in his epic. He took an apparently very simple story of the “Fall” from the Bible, but he blended within it his puritan thoughts, Renaissance humanism, his political as well as domestic ideals, and many such meanings. The ‘invocation’ is the very beginning of the epic in which Milton prays to the Muse, the Christian spirit, to help him write well. The ninth book is the climactic part of the epic narrative, as well as a book that contains several thematic issues of the whole epic.

The most obvious theme of Paradise Lost is justifying the fall of man, God’s punishment and the reopening of his path of salvation to them; in short, the epic justifies how God is right in his treatment of man throughout all these. Milton has explored the sin which brought about the downfall of man. The prime cause of the fall is disobedience to God; the cause of Eve’s disobedience is her passion overwhelming her right reason. Adam is also guilty of disobedience; his sin is dread of loneliness and also the surrender of his God given reason to passion. Due to love, he immediately decides to share Eve’s fate. Milton emphasizes the importance of reason. Man is noble by nature, but he has free will, and hence free to choose and capable of action, morally good or bad for which he alone is responsible. Milton does not believe in Calvinism according to which God has decided everything, and a man’s destiny has been fixed before his birth. Milton is a great humanist pinning his faith in the liberty and adventure of man. Milton therefore believes that God was justified in leaving Adam and Eve exposed to evils, and leaving their reasoning free; only that defines human beings as supreme creatures. God was also right in punishing Adam and Eve. The purpose of Paradise Lost is, therefore, to assert eternal providence and justify the way of God to men.

Milton believes in the orthodox idea of redemption. When men will be redeemed through Christ, they will rise to a more excellent state than Paradise from which Adam and Eve were turned out. Thus Adam did a useful act while sinning. Tillyard says, “Paradise Lost is a mental pilgrimage; the loss of one paradise and the finding on this earth of a paradise within ourselves, that is happier far”. The paradise in which Adam and Eve lived before eating the forbidden fruit was like a prison. It might have satisfied God, but it would have kept man spiritually undeveloped. So long as knowledge was withheld from man, his obedience to God was meaningless. Moreover the virtue which Adam and Eve possessed in Paradise was a “fugitive and cloistered virtue”, and therefore it was no virtue in the real sense. What man lost by disobedience was only a state of innocence and ignorance. Men gain spiritual rebirth by controlling their passions. And they will find a Paradise within them ‘happier far’. Man has all the powers of working out the best, and moves upward, and finds the paradise within himself. This could not be possible by paying homage to God in a state of ignorance in Eden’s paradise. Eve sins through weakness of reason where as Adam through weakness of will.

Milton’s style in writing the Paradise Lost has been called a ‘grand style’, which means it is an elevated, serious, highly crafted, and different from common speech. It is in fact so unfamiliar to common language, even the usual literary language, that Dr. Johnson accused Milton of ‘pedantry’. The charge is basically based on his writing that was heavily Latinated. Indeed many critics have complained that Milton spoilt the English language. But in other ways he has contributed to the development of the English language as a literary language. Milton’s ‘grand’, style can be discussed under four or five heads: rhythm and music, word game and figures of speech, diction and decorum, syntax, and the remoteness and sublimity of language and theme.

The meter or rhythm of Milton’s epic poem is usually called the blank verse, but it is not the common blank verse (lines in iambic pentameter without rhyme); Milton adapted it to his own convenience and purpose. The lines in Paradise Lost do contain ten syllables usually, but the lines contain any number of stresses from three to eight. So, it would not be appropriate to say that this is done by using traditional techniques of variation. Furthermore, the stresses differ in degree and position. The pause or caesura is another even more important feature of rhythm in Milton. The pause falls at different places of the lines, and the weight of different pauses is also different; there are light or shorter pauses and heavy or longer pauses give different effects to the narrative.

Milton’s diction is heavily Latin. Even when he uses English words, they have the Latin connotations beneath. The words are so meticulously chosen that many critics have blamed his diction as too labored. Milton somehow ‘invented English that is extremely unfamiliar and pedantic. He uses words in such ways that there are always both literal and symbolic meanings, with both English denotations and Latin connotations. His descriptions are florid and highly picturesque. He uses images to reinforce the theme. He shifts tone along with the change of description and setting. That usually helps him shift the emotional intensity, or avoid monotony.

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Sharma, Kedar N. "Paradise Lost by John Milton: Summary and Critical Analysis." BachelorandMaster, 11 Nov. 2013,

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