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Violation of the Authority of the Father Figure in John Milton’s Paradise Lost and Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe Essay

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Updated: May 23rd, 2019

Introduction

John Milton’s epic poem, “Paradise Lost”, primarily explores the repercussions of disobedience visited upon man after his fall occasioned by eating the forbidden fruit. Therefore, the poem inadvertently cautions against disobeying the instituted authority and moral structures.

However, through the actions of one of the main protagonists of the poem, Satan, the act of challenging authority is explored. Satan challenges the authority of God in heaven, and consequently, he is cast away into the depths of hell. Similarly, in Daniel Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe”, the title character, Robinson Crusoe, decides to follow his long held ambition of exploring the seas.

Subsequently, he goes against his family’s, especially his father’s, wish that he settles down, establish himself in a respectable career, and create a socially expected and accepted trajectory of life amongst his societal contemporaries.

The common thread in the two characters; Satan in “Paradise Lost” and Robinson Crusoe in “Robinson Crusoe”, is that, they both wilfully defy the set authority that has guided and ruled over their lives. Instead, they decide to chart their own course in life independent of the influence of their separate father figure authorities.

Satan, primarily due to his immense hubris that sets him against God, decides to challenge the authority of God by leading a rebellion that intends to usurp the authority of God in heaven. The rebellion fails, and he is banished into hell. Nevertheless, Satan is determined to live a life that is independent of the influence of the fatherly authority of God; therefore, he decides to acclimatize to his wretched existence in the depths of hell.

He states that, he would be okay as long as he maintains his liberty in hell, and to this effect he reveals that he would rather reign in hell than serve in heaven (Milton Book 3, verse 77). Similarly, Robinson Crusoe goes against his father’s wishes, and thus authority, by deciding to forgo the comforting and relatively stable life of career men in the town of Hull. Instead, he casts his lot with the precarious nature of exploration and adventurism, much to the dismay of his father (Defoe 2).

Therefore, in both texts, the characters of Satan, Adam, Eve, and Robinson Crusoe bravely defy the authority of the father figures in their lives. Furthermore, they heroically choose to follow their own paths in life, which even while turning out to be dangerous, unpredictable, and almost suicidal for them, are worth the struggle because of the sense of freedom, liberation, and self-dependence that they subsequently acquire.

The Setting in Robinson Crusoe and Paradise Lost: The Town of Hull and Heaven as Harbingers of Disobedience, Defiance, and Revolt

The setting at the beginning of Paradise Lost and Robinson Crusoe provide a fertile ground for fostering dissent, especially for inquisitive and curious souls such as those of the respective characters in both texts.

In Paradise Lost, the setting of Heaven and the requirements by God that he be worshipped and adored by is creations creates a monotonous existence for his subjects/creations (Milton Book 1, Verse 18). Satan, his pride notwithstanding, decides to lead a rebellion against God because he states that angels are not God’s creations, therefore, are not bound to worship and adore God like the rest of God’s creations.

Thus, the streak of rebellion in Satan is borne out of the monotonous existence to be found in Heaven. Similarly, Adam comes across as curious; exploring the Garden of Eden and seeking answers from the angels on the nature of man’s existence (Book 1 Verse 17). Even though, he is more curious than Eve, he still worships God as required.

However, when Eve is tempted, and partakes of the forbidden fruit, Adam knowingly partakes too, even though he is aware that he is committing a sin. Just like Satan, Adam and Eve are living a mundane and repetitive lifestyle in Heaven. They are curious, and once Satan tempts Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, Eve’s, and subsequently Adam’s, interests are piqued.

As God’s creations, Satan, Adam, and Eve are endowed with a sense of curiosity that is limited by living in Heaven and the Garden of Eden. Satan seeks authority and liberty from God, whom he views as an illegitimate Lord over Heaven. Likewise, Adam and Eve are eager to satisfy their quench for knowledge concerning life beyond the limited answers given by the Angels in heaven.

Therefore, the sphere of Heaven, the setting for much of Paradise Lost, although meant to be a safe place for God’s creations, ironically becomes the exact source of curiosity, defiance and revolt by Satan, and Adam and Eve.

These three characters, in a sense, are brave and act heroically because they refuse to settle and accept everything that they are told; instead, they are courageous enough to defy their precise creator. Satan decides to challenge the authority of God, the father of all creatures of heaven, while Adam and Eve, by partaking of the forbidden fruit, begin a post-lapsarian heroic journey towards discovering life, morality and death, beyond the theoretical knowledge they had received while in Heaven.

Robinson Crusoe also refuses to settle into the comfortable and predictable lifestyle destined for him by virtue of being his father’s son; a life that is expected of him by the fact that many of the citizens in the town of Hull lived their lives in such a manner. When Robinson Crusoe’s father realizes that his son is keen on exploration of the seas and new land in with an aim of making a chance fortune in such a manner, he quickly counsels him against doing so (Defoe 2).

Crusoe’s father wonders why his son would forgo the relative comfort and surety of life in Hull, and take his chances on making a fortune in wild and unpredictable sea adventures. However, what is lost on the father is that the exact comfort and predictability of life in Hull as the father desired for the son, was the sheer reason that the son desired explore the world – Robinson Crusoe wanted more out of life than the monotonous, mundane life that his father envisioned for him.

According to Althusser, when Robinson Crusoe attempts to make his son change his mind about the plan to become an explorer and adventurer, he invokes the authority of God in impressing upon his own authority as the father (105). Crusoe’s father almost pronounces a curse on the son, stating that, were Crusoe to ignore his pleadings, God would, in support of the father’s authority, inflict harm, pain, and suffering upon Crusoe’s life.

The mere fact that Robinson Crusoe still chooses to pursue his own desired path of exploration, therefore, points to his extreme dissatisfaction and abhorrence to the life that his father desired for him, which life was to be experienced in Hull, the setting of this given part of the novel.

Therefore, in both texts, the setting as portrayed by the authors are avenues for creating and fostering a sense of curiosity, and subsequently defiance and rebellion that make the involved characters desire more out of their lives than the paths envisioned by the respective authorities in their lives – their fathers.

The Heroic Nature of Satan’s, Adam and Eve’s (Humanity) and Robinson Crusoe’s Transgression against the Authority of the Father Figure

As discussed in the forgoing paragraphs, Satan, Adam and Eve, out of pride and curiosity respectively, challenge the restrictions set on them by God’s authority. In Satan’s case, he knows the all-powerful, all-knowing and ever-present nature of God, yet he still has the temerity to challenge God’s authority.

The rebellion he leads fails, and he is banished into hell. Yet, with the aid of his colleagues, Mammon and Beelzebub, he plots a way of reaching heaven again by accessing the Garden of Eden and corrupting the minds of Eve and Adam (Milton Book 4 Verse 12).

Satan volunteers to take the treacherous journey into heaven though the abyss, braving many dangers along the way before arriving at the Garden of Eden and convincing Eve first to partake of the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, leading to Adam’s subsequent similar moral capitulation (Milton Book 4 Verse 25).

Satan’s journey through the Abyss is similar to the journeys undertaken by other heroes in classic Greek works such as Odysseus. Both Satan and Odysseus overcome many challenges and fight battles on their respective journeys, and like Aeneas in Aeneid rallies his troops behind him despite the great odds against them (Calloway 83).

Therefore, not only does Satan refuse to accept the defeat that led to his banishment from heaven, he also takes the risk of returning to heaven, this time with a more subtle plan of challenging God’s authority by winning over the minds of his creations through his infectious rhetoric and charisma.

Satan’s conviction in his attempts to challenge the authority of God stems from the fact that he strongly believes that God ruled heaven as a tyrant. He believes that his challenge of the authority of God, despite the heavy odds against him and his fellow rebellious angels, was a challenge against the whimsical, tyrannous and unfair leadership of God (Hiller 3).

This tyrannous and vengeful nature of God can be seen in the manner that he treats Adam and Eve after they eat of the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

After Adam and Eve realise that they have sinned, and are thus consumed by immense guilt and shame, they decide to seek the pardon of God, who does not pardon them but rather lets them experience the full repercussions of their transgressions (Milton Book 9 verses 4-6). Adam and Eve are thus banished from the Garden of Eden, and in a sense Satan’s view of God is justified, and since Satan’s plan is realised, he managers to win a small battle over God in that instance.

On their part, Adam and Eve’s heroism stems from the fact that they not only ate the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (knowing full well the penalty was death), but also the fact that they willingly took responsibility for their actions. It is worth noting that, in a sense, Adam and Eve were living in the shadow and fear of the authority of God.

The fact that they were supposed to die, if they were to eat of the fruit, illustrates the fact that, despite God stating that they had the free will to do whatever they pleased, the extreme repercussions for this one transgression indicates a tendency to stifle and diminish this free will even before it is practiced.

Therefore, the bravery of Eve in partaking of the fruit (with a little Coaxing from Satan) with the knowledge that it would lead to her death indicates an intense desire to acquire the knowledge of God stored or hidden in the Tree of Knowledge. Subsequently, Adam also eats this same fruit after realizing that Eve had already done so, and knowing full well that he would be going against God’s will and would be banished from the garden of Eden together with Eve.

Thus, Adam and Eve satisfy their curiosity for knowledge, in the same vein challenging the authority of God the father, and subsequently take responsibility for their actions, neither laying the blame on Satan or God.

Robinson Crusoe overcomes many personal and societal restrictions in his pursuit of a life of exploration in the seas. Besides the authority of his father, which he transgresses, he leaves behind a family of three children – a matter society was not likely to view kindly. Thereafter, his father invokes the authority of God in a last ditch effort to try and convince him to stop his plans of exploring the high seas, telling him that God would bring harm on his path (Defoe 2).

Interestingly, on his exact first voyage, the predictions of the father are seemingly realised when his ship is wrecked in a storm, and he personally believes that his father’s warnings were haunting him in his journey. Yet, Robinson Crusoe recovers, both physically and psychologically, his love for exploration overcoming his fear of the unknown and the ominous warnings from his father.

Indeed, Crusoe encounters many hardships in his sea excursions, where he is captured and enslaved, before experiencing another shipwreck after escaping from slavery and becoming a plantation owner in Brazil, whereupon he finds himself in an island that he inhabits alone for twenty-eight years.

Crusoe’s heroism shines in all these circumstances because despite the father’s warning hanging over him like a dark cloud in all the unfortunate circumstances that encumber his adventures, he never once looses hope or despairs but remains true to his dream of self-dependence, liberty and fortune making.

Humanism and Civilization in Robinson Crusoe and Paradise Lost

In both Paradise Lost and Robinson Crusoe, the authors are concerned with the contemporary socio-political and economic issues in their societies. John Milton was ultimately concerned with the religious nature of man, his relation to his God within the context of free will and predetermination (Alderman 184).

According to Mondadori, when Milton allows man to fall and then take responsibility for his fall, he presents a liberated man and the consequences of man’s fall epitomise the nature of free will as determined by God (55). Therefore, Paradise Lost becomes an epic (as opposed to a tragedy) by virtue of the fact that it portrays the triumph of man through free will. Humans are thus free to exercise their God given free will in this life, and are portrayed as capable of making judgements that will enrich and enhance their lives.

On the other hand, Daniel Defoe through his novel Robinson Crusoe addresses and challenges the contemporary views on providence and free will. Similar to John Milton, Daniel Defoe believes in human beings charting their own successful courses in life through their own desires and plans, just like the character Robinson Crusoe does.

In a sense, the story of Robinson Crusoe pays homage to, and highlights the qualities admirable in a middle-class English man- adventurous, self-reliant, courageous and disciplined.

Shinagel states that the character of Robinson Crusoe vouches for the entrepreneurial spirit of the English man, which characterized the civilisation and expansion of the British Empire, as well as the colonizing tendencies of England, which are practiced by Crusoe on his Island (Island of Despair) and characterized the imperialistic match of the British Empire (24).

Conclusion

The form of both texts aids in the delivery of the various thematic contents of the texts. For instance, Milton utilizes nearly all types of genres available in his epic poem, which according to Fish may be interpreted as various scenes of a play, with the mind of the reader being the stage of the play (161).

Additionally, by using poetry in blank verse as the vehicle of transporting his message of the fall and redemption of man, Milton’s characters easily deliver direct speeches to state their points; a factor that would have been unwieldy had Milton not chosen this form of poetry.

Both Paradise Lost and Robinson Crusoe explore the theme of defiance or the transgression of fatherly authority. In Paradise Lost, Satan, together with Adam and Eve violate the law and authority of God, while Robinson Crusoe transgresses the authority of his biological father.

The heroism in the transgressions by these various characters lies in the fact that similar to the ideals espoused in the contemporary societies of the texts’ setting, they choose independence over dependence; freedom over bondage; discovery over complacency; and change over the status quo.

Therefore, by choosing to violate the laws that governed them by the authority of the father figures in their lives, these four characters chose the less travelled path, and in so doing opened a brave new world for themselves and, by extension, the reader(s); a less tyrannical world, more humanistic, and ultimately more civilised.

Works Cited

Alderman, Nigel. “Rememb’ring Mercy: Monuments, Memory, and Remembering in Paradise Lost.” Milton Quarterly 42.3 (2008): 183-196.

Althusser, Louis. “Robinson Crusoe and the drama of Interpellation.” In Transitions by Warrenn Montag. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. Print.

Calloway, Katherine. “Beyond Parody: Satan as Aeneas in “Paradise Lost.” Milton Quarterly 6.4(2005): 82-92.

Defoe, Daniel. Robinson Crusoe (Aladdin paperbacks edition). New York: Aladdin Paperbacks, 2001. Print.

Fish, Stanley. “The Harassed Reader in Paradise Lost.” Critical Quarterly 7.2 (1965): 161-182.

Hiller, Russell. “The Good Communicated: Milton’s Drama of the fall and the Law of Charity.” Modern Language Review 103.1 (2008): 1-21.

Milton, John. Paradise Lost, n.d. Web.

Mondadori, Anorldo. Giants of Literature: Milton. Berkshire: Sampson Low, 1977.

Shinagel, Michael. Daniel Defoe and Middle class Gentility. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1968. Print.

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