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Paradise Lost by John Milton - Barron's Booknotes
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LINES 411-775. EVENING IN PARADISE

In Adam's first speech, he mentions God's prohibition against eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. He doesn't know what Death is because (as you remember from Book II) Death is coming behind Satan and has not yet reached earth. Eve recounts the story of her birth from Adam's rib, acknowledging "How beauty is excelled by manly grace / And wisdom, which alone is truly fair." They embrace, making Satan furious with envy. He can only feel desire, never satisfaction-and his unsatisfied desire is the Hell he carries with him. Satan has gained an important piece of information from his eavesdropping: he can corrupt man through the Tree of Knowledge. He voices the question that has probably already occurred to you: is man's happiness dependent on ignorance? As twentieth-century readers, we're Likely to be scornful of a theology which seems to reward ignorance. But perhaps some kinds of knowledge are best left unknown: would man be happier if physicists had not used their knowledge to Construct a nuclear bomb?



A plan to inflame Adam and Eve's desire for knowledge begins to form in Satan's mind as he moves off to look for an angel who might tell him more.

The setting sun suddenly illumines the eastern gate of Paradise (the only legitimate entrance), where the angel Gabriel is on guard between pillars of alabaster and rock. Uriel slides down a sunbeam and quickly warns Gabriel that one of the "banished crew" has deceived him and entered Paradise. Gabriel replies that nothing has entered through the gate, but he can't be sure that a spirit hasn't leapt over the surrounding hedge. However, if Satan is in the garden, Gabriel will know by morning.

Evening comes on, the nightingale begins to sing, and Adam suggests to Eve that they go early to bed in order to rest for their gardening chores. Eve reiterates her submission-"God is thy law, thou mine"- and asks Adam to explain why the stars and moon shine throughout the night when nothing can see them.

They prevent the world from reverting to the reign of Night, Adam explains, and they give light to millions of nocturnal spirits, who praise God continually. Talking together, Adam and Eve walk hand in hand to a flowery shelter, their marriage bed. In an epic simile, Eve is described as more lovely than Pandora, who in classical myth opened a box which brought sin and trouble to mankind. By now you're probably wondering what Milton has against women: for him, their beauty is certainly not an unmixed blessing.

Adam and Eve make their evening prayer to God who has blessed them with perfection. They go to bed in each other's arms, as Milton praises "wedded love." To enjoy its sensual pleasures is to obey God's law. True love is found in the sexual embraces of married lovers, not "in the bought smile / Of harlots, loveless, joyless, unendeared."

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