Hierarchies of Importance in Paradise Lost
A hierarchy is any system of persons or things that are ranked above one another and can be found throughout all natural environments and different aspects of life. Hierarchies provide structure and prevent chaos because there is an overpowering authority at the very top of the chain that makes sure every rank below stays in line. Through the epic poem Paradise Lost, it is apparent that John Milton believed that all of creation was built on the foundation of hierarchies and authoritative power. This idea is emphasized by Milton’s description of the spiritual existence of the universe and incorporation of the natural chain of being where God is placed at the top of both structures. Multiple scenes throughout the poem signify the importance of these hierarchies and allow both Satan and Eve to cause turmoil, only to be followed by complete restoration from the overall power of God and the hierarchy. Paradise Lost demonstrates how hierarchies provide necessary structure and guidance to life by exemplifying how disobedience and deceit can temporarily destabilize the system, only for it to be rebuilt with authority and remain equally as strong.
The poem immediately begins with Satan destabilizing the most significant hierarchy in the poem by defying God’s word and ultimately creating the third layer of the universe, Hell. In Book One, we find that God has created a certain order, or hierarchy, of all the creatures he has created. His Son reigns right below him and is followed by all of the cherubs and angels, which includes Satan. Satan begins to question God’s reasoning for not granting him more power and does not understand why he is placed below God’s Son. This leads to Satan’s unfaithfulness to God and religious hierarchies all together because he believes that he should be a superior figure. The greedy serpent becomes “stirred with envy and revenge” (line 35) because he wants to be set apart from his peers, like God and his Son, and have significant power over them. The pure sensation of control causes Satan to act on his feelings and attempts to overthrow and destabilize the established hierarchy. Satan’s act of disobedience angers God and provokes him to exile Satan from Heaven, forcing him to reside in a fiery gulf known as Hell. Milton expresses the significance of this act by recalling hell to be “As far removed from God and light of Heav’n as from the center thrice to th’ utmost pole” (line 73-74). This places an actual image in the reader’s mind by comparing the fall from Heaven to Hell to thrice the distance from the center sphere of the cosmos, also known as earth, to the outermost sphere. The use of imagery in this situation helps Milton communicate how severe Satan’s punishment is by enabling the reader to relate the fall to an actual distance. The extent of the distance gives the impression that God is physically strong and not a force to be reckoned with. This also reinforces God’s authority because it was such a simple task that ended with serious repercussions for Satan and placed him below all non-living items on earth, including rocks. Satan was willing to give up eternal happiness and joy for a life of darkness and woe because of his desire for. This entire scene is important to Milton’s idea of destabilizing and reinforcing hierarchies because God had no choice but to banish Satan to ensure that corruption would not occur. A hierarchy cannot exist unless the lower ranks believe in it and accept the authoritative figure, which is not the case here. God made sure to rid Heaven of both Satan and his followers because he knew it was the only way to keep order and not have individuals attempt to overthrow his power again. God’s creation of hell is also significant to reinforcement because it solidifies the hierarchy of the overall universe and creates a place for other disobedient people to descend so that he does not have to be exposed...
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