The Themes of Paradise Lost Book 9

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Book IX - Its Difference

      Unlike the other books of Paradise Lost, in Book IX, there is the least amount of narration and it is through dialogue that the action is conducted. The reader gets a peep into the mind of the three major characters and comes to know about their motives for a particular course of action with the help of the much revelatory soliloquies assigned to each of the characters. It can rightly be called a tragedy in five acts with Adam and Eve as the central protagonists. The prologue in the beginning is helpful in explaining the aims and objectives of the poet. Expressing his opinion about Book IX, W. Graham says, “interest is sustained by the inter play of dialogue and the interaction of character, and suspense is maintained by carefully placed pauses in the action. The drama is equally one of ideas as of clash of temperaments, for Milton’s methods of distinguishing his characters is to place them in situations which call as much for an extreme statements, for Milton’s methods of distinguishing his characters is to place them in situations which call as much for an extreme statement of their points of view as for an intuitive reaction to events.”

The Prologue

      The opening lines make it clear that the poet is now going to change the note from pastoral and idyllic to tragic. He invokes his celestial patroness to help him and inspire him in his depiction of the Tragedy of Man, how his temptation led to his Fall, his sin of transgression of God’s command, against God’s definite forbiddenness to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge, and consequently the suffering of mankind. His theme is stated thus:

I now must change
Those notes to tragic; foul distrust and breach
Disloyal on the part of man, revolt
And disobedience; on the part of Heaven,
Now alienated distance and distaste

      This fatal event “brought death into the world, and all our woe, with loss of Eden.” The point of climax is thus reached in Book IX.

Satan’s Schemes

      Satan has not been able to fulfill his burning desire of taking revenge on God directly. He begins to explore round the world. He wished to take his revenge through Adam and Eve by seducing them to breach the command of God and thereby spoiling God’s entire scheme of creation. During the late hours of the night, Satan enters Paradise with darkness around him to cover his revengeful schemes. Adam and Eve after their day’s “pleasant labours” are quietly resting, their Paradise is heavily guarded against Satan and his evil hosts. Satan reaching Paradise is for a moment obsessed with the beauty of Paradise that for the time being he forgets his purpose and his plans. Soon he recovers and starts thinking on what shape to assume to reach near Adam and Eve. Finally, he decides to take the shape of a serpent. His descent into a snake reveals his moral as well as physical degradation:

O foul descent that I, who erst contented
With Gods to sit the highest, am now constrained
Into a beast, and, mixed with beastia! slime,
This essence to incarnate and imbrute,
That to the highth of deity aspired!
But what will not ambition and revenge
Descend to? Who aspires most down as low
As high he soared, obnoxious first or last
To basest things.

      Taking the shape of the serpent, Satan watches the activities of Adam and Eve and waits for a favorable moment.

Division of Labour

      Eve proposes that Adam and she should work separately. She feels that in order to get more work done in the same time, they should work separately because working together, they waste a lot of time in taking notice of each other. Adam does not like this proposal and warns Eve against the Satanic powers at work against their bliss. He cautions her not to be away from him, alone in the fields as Satan could take advantage of her being alone and try her virtue.

leave not the faithful side
That gave thee being, still shades thee and protects.
The wife where danger of dishonour lurks,,
Safest and seemliest by her husband stays,
Who guards her or with her the worst endures.

      Eve feels offended and insulted that he doubts her ability to stand alone. Still Eve insists on working separately. All persuasions and cautions of Adam fail. Adam gives a short discourse on the power of reason and freedom of will and then finally he agrees to her going away to a separate comer and work there.

But if thou think trial and sought may find
Us both secures than thus earned thou seem’st,
Go fer thy stay, not free absents thee more;
Go in thy native innocence, rely
On what thou last of virtue, summon all,
For God towards thee hath done his part; do thine.

      Eve nevertheless has the last word, calling herself ‘the weaker’ while asserting her own will and deftly placing the responsibility on Adam by selecting his excuse as her main reason for departure. She also insists that she goes with his permission.

With Thy permission then, and thus forewarned
Chiefly by what thy own last reasoning words
Touched only, that our trial when least sought,
May find us both perhaps lar less prepared,
The willinger I go, nor much expect
A foe so proud will first the weaker seek;
So bent, the more shall shame him his repulse.

      In the words of W. Graham - “The scene is remarkably effective: the characters have become individualized; both express their views at sufficient length for the reader to appreciate their respective merits; if Eve has the reader to appreciate their respective merits; if Eve has the better of the argument, making her attitude appear reasonable and her fall, therefore, unlikely, then Adam, we know, will be demonstrably right; there is a kind of lucid frankness in their discussion which is endearing in comparison with Satan’s agonized self-deception. Meanwhile, almost unnoticed, fatal decisions have been taken: Eve refuses to stay, safest and seemliest by her Husband’; he who ‘guards her’, has, in a sense, failed to do so; when later, she falls, he follows her inevitably and ‘with her, the worst endures’, as we know he would.”

The Temptation of Eve

      Satan waits at hand, and he is happy to find her “Thus earlier, thus alone”. He zig-zags on an indirect track like a ship tacking off an estuary or a foreland in a veering wind. Satan addresses Eve in human voice. He praises her by saying that she is the most beautiful image of her beautiful maker. Her heavenly beauty is most fittingly seen where it is marveled at by a whole universe of living spectators. Is it enough for her to be seen only by the insensitive and undiscriminating animals here around her—and other wise by one man only. Eve is very much surprised when she hears the snake talking to her in a human voice. She is addressed by him as the “Sovereign Mistress”, “Empress of the fair world resplendent Eve.” She asks him:

What may this mean? Language of Man pronounced
By tongue of brute, and human sense expressed.
The first at least of these I thought denied
To beasts, whom God on their creation day
Created mute to all articulate sound;
The latter I demur, for in their looks
Much reason, and in their actions, oft appears.
Thee, serpent, subtlest beast of all yield
I knew, but not with human voice endowed;
Redouble them this miracle, and say,
How can't thou speakable of mute, and how
To me so friendly grown above the rest
Of brutal kind, that daily are in sight;
Say for such wonder claims attention due.

      The serpent explains that he was as subrational as the other animals until the day when he came upon a tree whose fruit gave off a sweet smell sweeter than that of the fennel. He plucked, at his fill, for the pleasure was greater than any he had known. Afterwards, there came over him a strange transformation to the extent that the power of reason was added to his inner faculties, and thereafter power of reason was lacking for long. Eve requests the serpent to take her to that tree but on reaching the Tree of knowledge she tells him of the prohibition.

But of this tree we may not taste nor touch:
God so commanded, and left that command
Sole daughter of his voice; the rest we live
Law to ourselves, our Reason is our Law

      Satan now tells Eve that God has most unjustly forbidden them to taste the fruit that was the best and most precious of all God’s blessings. He tells her that her fear that the tasting of the Apple of knowledge will bring death is unfounded, as he himself has eaten the same and has not died. It has rather given him celestial powers not enjoyed by him earlier. The temptation for Eve becomes more bold as it is noon-time and she feels hungry after the day’s work. The words of the tempter go deep in her heart and she begins to ask questions like; “why should God deny them the source of knowledge? Why should He deny them the faculty of knowledge? Why should they be deprived of the fruit which even mean creatures like serpents freely eat? Overcome by these arguments and her hunger, in addition to being confused by the false logic of Satan, she plucks one fruit from the forbidden Tree and eats it:

Earth felt a wound, and Nature from her seat
Sighing through all her works gave signs of woe,
that all was lost.

Eve’s Triviality

      Ignorant of the impending doom, Eve feels delighted at having eaten of the Fruit of Knowledge, which she believes has brought her knowledge, wisdom, experience, power of discretion and several other such blessings. Then she debates with herself whether or not to impart the information to Adam and share her happiness with him. If she doesn’t, it would rectify the balance between the two sexes, compensating for what is lacking in the female sex, giving her a super power over him, and perhaps even making her superior.

Eve Tempts Adam

      Eve tells Adam that the forbidden tree is not dangerous to eat but divinely efficacious in endowing those who taste it with insight and godhead. She tells him that persuaded by the serpent, she has tasted the forbidden Fruit and found it the greatest blessing withheld from them so far. She offers him the same forbidden fruit.

Thou therefore also taste, that equal lot
May join us, equal joy, as equal love;
Lost thous not tasting, different degree
Disjoin us, and I then too late renounce
Deity for thee, when Fate will not permit.

      Adam’s reaction is one of blank astonishment, of blood running chill through his veins, the relaxing of his joints, and the dropping from his slackened hand of all the faded roses. Adam now sees Eve as lost, defaced and deflowered. He immediately detects the hand of the fraudulent enemy at the back of what he accepts as their joint ruin. However, he decides to eat the fruit and undergo whatever doom is in store for Eve. The ‘Bond of Nature’ proves stronger than the law of obedience. He takes the ‘enticing fruit’ from Eve’s hand and eats it.

Earth trembled from her entrails, as again
In pangs, and Nature gave a second groan;
Sky lowr’d, and muttering thunder, some sad drops
Wept at completing of the mortal sin

Consequences of the Fall

      Act V of this cosmic tragedy depicts the immediate consequences of the Fall. They would later be expelled from Paradise and together with their progeny, they would suffer disease, suffering and death. The first consequence of their disobedience is that their minds are filled with overpowering lust.

      They take their fill of love and its ‘disport’ until they are tired of the game. Secondly, their native innocence is replaced by a sense of guilty shame, Adam cries out for a savage and solitary life concealed within woods impenetrable by light. Such is their sorry plight, they must devise a means of hiding their unseemly sexual parts, which newly acquired shame cause them to find unclean. Thirdly, overcome by a grief, repentance and sense of guilt, Adam accuses Eve of disobedience and defiance of his advice not to go away from him to work alone in the fields. He accuses her of invoking God’s fury on themselves and their race and the curse of death. In reply, Eve says that the trap laid on her and the temptation was so great that if he had been in her place, he would not have resisted them. But above all she blames him for not exercising his authority over her with a strong hand and letting her go alone. Thus they accuse each other and repent but the situation has gone out of their control now:

Thus they in mutual accusation spent
The fruitless hours, but neither self-condemning
And of their vain contest appear’d no end.

      Hence, Adam and Eve as the doom foretold die spiritually and have also become subject to disease and physical death. Their divine grace and innate innocence is lost.

University Questions

Can Book IX rightly be described as a book on clash of ideas and personalities in Paradise Lost?
Examine the theme of Book IX in Paradise Lost.

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