Support the Monkey! Tell All your Friends and Teachers
Table of Contents
11. Look carefully at the lines in Book XII and separate the things that Adam has learned: it was foolish to seek more knowledge than God allows; he must obey; he must love and fear God; and so on. Then match up each item with the events that brought it home to Adam. For example, he learned from the Fall that God punished his desire for more knowledge than a man should have-a desire expressed symbolically by the eating of the apple from the Tree of Knowledge. But exactly what taught him that he should depend on God alone? Was it the Fall or the merciful way that God treated him? Or was it the visions of the future shown him by Michael? He says that he has learned to suffer for truth's sake, but there isn't any obvious event which teaches him this. You have to ask yourself why Adam says this.
12. Attack this question by asking what makes a hero or a villain. Get a working definition of each, then match Satan's actions and speeches with it. You might think of a hero in a purely formal way as the chief focus of the action: Satan sets everything in motion and makes everyone react to him. There wouldn't be any story if Satan hadn't decided to object to God's elevation of the Son. So in that sense Satan is a hero.
We also think of heroes as having exemplary characteristics. Does Satan have any? Look at Books I and II, where he rallies the fallen angels and demonstrates leadership qualities. But how did the situation arise that Satan has to demonstrate those qualities? Was his action heroic in the sense of admirable? Can rebellion ever be admirable? Here you can refer to Abdiel- a rebel against a rebel and one with truly heroic qualities.
Villains are easier to deal with than heroes because we use the word "villain" in a more restricted sense. The problem is that villains aren't usually central characters-and Satan is the central character of Paradise Lost, isn't he?
13. You need to consider why the fallen angels might be more interesting than God and the angels who remain in Heaven. Why would a poet-a writer-find it easier to make evil more interesting than good? Do you think he did this? Compare Books I and II with Book III. Is the landscape in Hell more interesting than that in Heaven? Where is there more action? Is there argument in one place and not in the other? It seems to be true that we find conflict and action more interesting than unrelieved harmony and peace, so it may be nothing to do with Milton's intentions that we enjoy the scenes in Hell more than those in Heaven.
There's another dimension to Blake's remark. Quite apart from the artistic problems of making goodness interesting (and the poem contains many examples of interesting evil and boring good), Blake is suggesting that artists-poets-are by nature rebels against authority. Is that the source of Satan's vitality? If you argue that it is, you'll have to consider what to say about the fact that Milton clearly identifies with other people, not with Satan. For proof, look at the invocations and at the comments on Noah in Book XI. This is a topic that has been provoking discussion for over 150 years.
14. Look at each book and summarize briefly its theme and its function in the poem. For example, why is Book VIII there? What information do we get from Adam's description of the making of Eve? When you think about what happens in Book IX, you'll see that the information in Book VIII is essential to the understanding not so much of the Fall but of the conversation between Adam and Eve before they separate. Then move a step backward: why Book VII? Is it superfluous? Could you tell your friend to skip it and make do with a synopsis? Wouldn't she be missing some of the most delightful poetry in the whole of Paradise Lost? This book also has a none-too-obvious function: it shows that the world really is God's idea and that he has a deep love for it. So this book makes you think differently about God's character. Proceeding in this way, you may well decide to argue that no book can be omitted if someone really wants to understand Paradise Lost.
15. Let's consider the simile in which the fallen angels are compared to the fairies a peasant might see on his way home (I, 781-789). The message is clearly that the fallen angels have become very like peasants. Why peasants? What is like and unlike about the two halves of the comparison? What is in the scene of the fairies and the peasant under the moon which gives us more information about the devils and/or our relationship to them? A proper analysis of the simile will consider each question in turn.
Peasants: Milton frequently chooses country people for his similes, perhaps to make the unfamiliar seem familiar, but also to bring in unsophisticated people, because we are all unsophisticated in relation to the superhuman powers in Paradise Lost.
Like and unlike: The devils are small, and so are the fairies. They're threatening and mysterious, and so are the fairies, who inspire the peasant with "joy and fear." Both fairies and devils may or may not be real: "sees, / Or dreams he sees." The fairies are having a party ("midnight revels"), but the devils are intent on very grim business in Pandemonium.
Other information: The fairies and the peasant meet each other at night, under a huge moon. This makes us think that Hell must look like that too, dark and full of shadows. Thus we get this information without being told it directly. When the moon, who according to astrology has influence over our destinies, moves closer to the earth, it makes us feel uneasy. And we certainly ought to feel uneasy when the devils meet! The peasant feels confused, not sure what's going on or what he sees, excited by the music but frightened by seeing what he thinks are supernatural beings. We feel confused by the devils; they have their attractive side, but in fact they are deadly threats.
As you analyze similes in this way, you'll realize that each has its own function or functions, in addition to indicating that Milton is writing in the epic tradition.