Paradise Lost

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Paradise Lost

The Character of Satan

Most readers of “Paradise Lost” by Milton, consider Satan to be the hero, or protagonist, of the story, because he struggles to overcome his own doubts and weaknesses and accomplishes his goal of corrupting humankind. This goal, however, is evil, and Adam and Eve are the moral heroes at the end of the story, as they help to begin humankind’s slow process of redemption and salvation. Satan is far from being the story’s object of admiration, as most heroes are. Yet there are many compelling qualities to his character that make him intriguing to readers.

One source of the readers intrigue in Satan is that he is a complex and subtle character. It would be difficult for Milton to make perfect characters such as God the Father, God the Son, and the angels as interesting to read about as the flawed characters, such as Satan, Adam, and Eve. Satan is also a grand and majestic figure, seemingly unafraid of being damned eternally, and not worried by Chaos or Death. He suggests he can make "a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n" (I, 255). Some have argued that Milton deliberately makes Satan seem heroic and appealing early in the poem to draw us into sympathizing with him against our will, so that we may see how seductive evil is and learn to be more vigilant in resisting it.

Milton devotes much of the poem’s early books to developing Satan’s character. Satan’s greatest fault is his pride. He acts "with Monarchal pride" (II, 458). He casts himself as a victim, overlooked for an important promotion. But his ability to be so selfish in Heaven, where all angels are equal is surprising. Satan also says it is "Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heav'n" (I, 263). His confidence in thinking that he could ever overthrow God displays vanity and pride. When Satan shares his pain and alienation as he reaches Earth in Book IV, we may feel somewhat sympathetic to him or even identify with him. But Satan continues to devote himself...
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