Human Interest in Paradise Lost

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     It is said that Paradise Lost is lacking in human interest because the characters in the poem are mostly inhuman, and the two human characters that are there are in a state of “isolated perfection and sinlessness” and possess but a small degree of humanity. “The man and woman who act and suffer are in a state which no other man or woman can ever know. The reader finds no transaction in which he can be engaged, beholds no condition in which he can by any effort of imagination place himself,” (Johnson). Stopford Brooke writes, “They (Adam and Eve) are not intended in any sense to represent man and woman such as we know them, worn with the wars of thought and passion, made complex or dwarfed by civilization, but the archetypal man and woman, fresh from the hand of God.” It is true indeed, as Bailey points out, that “the Paradise Lost, has far less of ordinary human life in it, far less variety of action than the Iliad and Odyssey”. This was unavoidable because of the theme of the poem. But it would be wrong to say that the poem is lacking in human interest.

      The very theme of the poem—Fall of Man—is pregnant with human interest, in as much as it deals with a tremendous issue, involving the fate of the whole human race. The interest of the story lies in the problem of the origin of evil, and in the struggle of a moral being against evil. This struggle between good and evil is the artistic motive of the poem, and it has always and in all pieces of literature interested mankind; it is in fact the foremost subject of art. When Eve plucks and eats fruit, all nature shudders:

Earth felt the wound, and Nature from her scat
Sighing through all her works, gave sings of woe
That all was lost.

      The chief character in Paradise Lost is Satan, who represents Evil. He and his companions are fallen angels, and are superhuman characters. But they are all inspired by human feelings and emotions. They have been defeated in a war, but defeat cannot daunt the spirit of Satan. The words of Satan are the worlds of a brave man, who can hold his head even in the midst of direst suffering. The debate in Pandemonium calls to our mind the debates in the parliament. The poet has thus given to his inhuman characters human feelings and emotions. Satan himself becomes interesting because he represents a part of Milton’s self.

      The autobiographical passages in Paradise Lost, may be regarded as irregularities or superfluities, but as Johnson asked, “Superfluities, so beautiful, who would take away?” In these passages, we have glimpses of the poet’s soul, and they are probably the most universally admired passages of the poem. “Nothing in the whole poem”, says Bailey,” moves us so much.....The essence of Milton’s genius was lyrical, and so none of his character, divine, diabolic or human, will ever move us quite as he moves us himself.”

      The human characters appear for the first time in Book IV, which opens with a cry for help against Satan. The actual story of the Fall occupies but a small space in the poem—in Book IX, but here is concentrated all the human interest of the poem. Satan, by playing upon the feminine weakness of Eve, tempts her to pluck and eat the fruit. The poet shows in Eve the essential weaknesses of feminine character—vanity, curiosity and wilfulness; and these weaknesses prove the undoing of Eve. As to Adam, he is represented as absolutely in her power through passion. The first reaction of Adam when Eve told him that she had eaten the forbidden fruit, was horror:

How art thou lost! how on a sudden lost
Defaced, deflowered, and now to death devote.

      But his love for Eve gets the better of his reason:

And me with thee hath ruined; for with thee
Certain of my resolution is to die.
How can I live without thee?

      “The whole of this (scene) is as fine, in its grave and slow-moving manner, as anything in Shakespeare” (Brooke).

      There are only a few characters in Paradise Lost - yet, says Bailey, “into the mouths of this tiny group of persons, Milton may be said to have brought all the history of the world and all its geography, art, science and learning, the Jew, the Christian and the Pagan, Greek philosophy and Roman politics, classical myth, medieval romance, and even the contemporary life of his own experience.” This is done Partly by means of the prophecy of future ages in Books XI and XII, and by means of similes, which bring us from heaven and hell to the familiar life of the earth.

      The effects of the Fall are first revealed through vision, and then narrated by Archangel Michael, who tells Adam that when he has faith and practices deeds of charity,

Then wilt not be loth
To leave this Paradise, but shalt possess
A Paradise within thee, happier far.

      This the true close of the poem - “the epic purification of mankind.” Now comes the last scene, which is pregnant with deep pathos. Adam runs to waken Eve; she is ready to leave Paradise:

But now lead on;
In me is no delay; thou to me
Art all things under Heaven, all placed thou,
Who for my willful crime art banished hence.

      The angels descend, and in front, the sword of God blazed. The angels then direct “our lingering parents” to the eastern gate of Eden. Adam and Eve looked back and beheld all the eastern side of Paradise, “So late their happy seat.” Paradise was lost to them.

Some natural tears they dropped, but wiped them soon.
The world was all before them, where to choose
Their place or rest, and Province their guide.
They hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow.
Thorough Eden took their solitary way.

      The epic closes with man’s expulsion from Paradise. It began with the line, “Of Man’s first disobedience, and the fruit Of that forbidden tree” and it closes with the line “They through Eden took their solitary way”. Thus, the whole poem centers around the man and his action.

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