Paradise Lost is a classic poem written in the late 17th century by English poet John Milton. It was first published in 1667 in 10 books and revised in 1674, this second edition being redivided into 12 books with slight revisions all through the books. A great deal of Paradise Lost was written after Milton had lost his eyesight, and was written down for him.
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The poem is a rendition of the fall of man as written in the Bible The author’s purpose, as stated in the book, is to expound on the conflict between man and God. Milton incorporates a number of literary styles in the book, however, this paper will focus on allegory as used in the book.
Allegory in Paradise Lost
Brightness and Light
Allegory is used in many instances throughout the book. He uses brightness and light to signify God’s presence. The audience never really gets to see God throughout the book; the only thing the author says about Him is that He is very bright, or that He is a huge light, hidden away in some far off place.
Milton uses a number of ways to illustrate a person’s virtue, and one of them is by showing how ‘bright’ they are. For instance, Satan mentions the ‘bright confines’ of Heaven (Milton, Book, 2.395), and the author writes that “God is light,/ And never but in unapproachèd light/ Dwelt” (Milton, Book 3.305). Various sections of the book mention God’s “glorious brightness” (Milton, Book, 2.395, Milton, Book 3.375).
Many sections of the Paradise Lost refer to angels as bright creatures. For instance, the author writes that the angels “Stood thick as stars” (Milton, Book 3.61) in reference to the brightness of the stars. Adam sees Raphael coming from the east and imagines it is another sunrise (Book 5.309-311), illustrating the brightness of Raphael (similar to that of a rising sun).
Milton uses allegory to illustrate Satan’s position before and after his banishment from Heaven. He writes that Satan was “Clothed with transcendent brightness” (Milton, Book 1.86) and “didst out-shine/ Myriads” (Milton, Book 1.86-87). \Following his fall from Heaven, Milton writes that “his form had yet not lost/ All her original brightness” (Book 1.591-592), making the audience guess that Satan had lost some of his brightness due to his sin, indeed, Raphael confirms this by saying that that Satan was “brighter once” (Milton, Book 7.132).
This poem is about the banishment of Adam and Eve from Paradise after they tae the forbidden fruit, regularly known as the ‘Fall’, hence, pictures of falling objects abound the book. When we first meet Adam and Eve, they are newly fallen both morally (having defied God’s command) and literally (thrown out of Heaven).
Satan’s first statement is “Awake, arise, or be forever fallen” (Milton, Book 1.330). Milton uses fallen (or fall) to signify sin or to go against God’s commands.
It is essential to note that in Paradise Lost, the characters make themselves fall; no force that throws any of the fallen character out of Heaven. Indeed, in Book 3, Milton writes that God created Adam “Sufficient to have stood, though free to fall” (Book 3.95-96). And later, God does not push Satan and other rebel angels out of Heaven, rather, they throw themselves. Milton writes, “headlong themselves they threw/ Down from the verge of Heav’n” (Book 6.864-865).
Besides these two falls, the author uses numerous linked images. Considering that an object that has fallen is no longer erect, Milton writes that “man’s woe” (Book 11.632) begins with “man’s effeminate slackness” (Book 11.634).
He implies that Adam was femininely negligent when he listened to his wife and ended up eating the forbidden fruit, hence his fall. Instead of standing up as a man, he allowed Eve to influence his thinking and disobeyed God’s command (Stone, pp. 38).
The Scales in the Sky
As Satan gets ready to battle Gabriel when he is found in Paradise, God makes an image of a pair of golden scales to show in the sky. On one face of the scales, God puts the results of Satan’s desertion of the war, and on the other, He puts the results of Satan staying to battle Gabriel (Frye, pp. 12).
The face that illustrates him staying to battle the angel flies away, symbolizing its weightlessness and irrelevance. The scales signify the fact that God and Satan are actually not on opposite sides of a battle; God is all-powerful, and Satan and Gabriel depend on Him. The scales compel Satan to recognize the futility of fighting against God’s angels again.
Adam’s Flowery Headdress
The wreath that Adam made for Eve (Milton, Book 9.86-87) has different meanings. First, it signifies his affection for her and attraction to her. Just as Adam is about to give the wreath to Eve, he is shocked on realizing that she has eaten from the Tree of Knowledge, this makes him drop the wreath to the ground.
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This signifies that his love for Eve is fading. His view of her as a companion has been destroyed. The fallen wreath signifies the loss of love (Wheat, pp. 154).
Frye, Northrop, The Return of Eden: Five Essays on Milton’s Epics, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1965. Print.
Milton, John. Paradise Lost. In The Norton Introduction to Literature. Alison Booth and Kelly J. Mays, eds. Portable 10th ed. New York: Norton, 2011. Print.
Stone, James W. “Man’s effeminate s(lack)ness:” Androgyny and the Divided Unity of Adam and Eve, Milton Quarterly 31 (2): 1997. 33–42.
Wheat, Leonarf F. Philip Pullman’s His dark materials–a multiple allegory : attacking religious superstition in The lion, the witch, and the wardrobe and Paradise lost, Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2008. Print.