Paradise Lost


Symbols and Themes

Obedience to Hierarchy

Milton opens his epic poem by announcing that his subject will be “man’s first disobedience,” clearly characterizing original sin as the failure of man to obey the will of God. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve are repeatedly told that they have but one single commandment to follow in order to remain in paradise: not to eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. Adam and Eve are not to question God’s absolute authority; when Eve begins to do so, at Satan’s urging, all is lost. Interestingly, Eve’s rebellion against God’s will is subtly foreshadowed in her conversation with Adam that morning. For the first time in their idyllic time together, Eve expresses a desire to work independently of Adam, an idea that he does not support. Although Eve does not actively defy Adam, she does question his authority and exert her own will in expressing a difference of opinion. Furthermore, she persuades him to agree with her suggestion, rather than conceding to his opinion. In the hierarchy of Paradise Lost, which adamantly places Adam (men) as intellectually and spiritually superior to Eve (women), for Eve to get her own way is essentially an act of disobedience. In the poem, mankind disobeys God, and woman disobeys man. Both of these acts of disobedience to hierarchical superiors thus lead to humanity’s fall from God’s grace.

Free Will

Throughout Paradise Lost, God emphasizes the fact that he has given free will to man, as well as to the “ethereal Powers and Spirits”—the angels. Lucifer clearly exercises free will in choosing to rebel against God, as do all of the angels who follow Lucifer into Hell. Satan and his “fallen angels” have chosen to fall, just as Eve and subsequently Adam will choose to fall. God stresses that he has given man everything necessary not to fall, as well. In other words, God does not preordain the fall, but merely foresees it because he is all-knowing. As God explains to the Son...

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Essays About Paradise Lost