Compare books 1 and 9 of Milton's Paradise Lost.

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These could be regarded as the pivotal books of Paradise Lost, as book 1 presents us with the premise of the drama that is about to unfold, and book 9 depicts the crucial event that is the centerpiece of the drama.

There could not be more of a contrast...

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These could be regarded as the pivotal books of Paradise Lost, as book 1 presents us with the premise of the drama that is about to unfold, and book 9 depicts the crucial event that is the centerpiece of the drama.

There could not be more of a contrast in both the characterizations and the settings of the two books. Book 1 has an almost science-fiction atmosphere, showing Satan, having been expelled from heaven, essentially in outer-space with the other fallen angels. The manner in which Satan himself is presented has been a source of controversy ever since Paradise Lost was first evaluated by critics and commentators. In the eighteenth century, Samuel Johnson noted that the words Milton has Satan speak are blasphemous, but, as a writer with a religious message, Milton had every right to present him in this way. In the nineteenth century, the Romantics, including Shelley and Blake, began to see Satan as the true hero of the poem: the expression of defiance and individuality that were the hallmarks of the Romantic spirit. In the twentieth century, critics such as F.R. Leavis and A.J.A. Waldock (the latter in his book Paradise Lost and Its Critics) saw the inconsistencies in Satan's character as a fatal flaw in Milton's approach. But few could deny that book 1, simply on the level of poetry, is the pinnacle of Milton's achievement. The speech Satan makes in describing the overall situation in which he finds himself is worth quoting at length:

Is this the Region, this the Soil, the Clime,
Said then the lost Arch-Angel, this the seat
That we must change for Heav'n, this mournful gloom
For that celestial light? Be it so, since he
Who now is Sovran can dispose and bid
What shall be right: fardest from him his best
Whom reason hath equald, force hath made supream
Above his equals. Farewel happy Fields
Where Joy for ever dwells: Hail horrours, hail
Infernal world, and thou profoundest Hell
Receive thy new Possessor: One who brings
A mind not to be chang'd by Place or Time.
The mind is its own place, and in it self
Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n.
What matter where, if I be still the same,
And what I should be, all but less then he
Whom Thunder hath made greater? Here at least
We shall be free; th' Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:
Here we may reign secure, and in my choyce
To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav'n.

The last line has been quoted again and again as either a symbol of defiant heroism or as the height of heretical wrong-headedness and perversity.

Book 9 has a completely different atmosphere. Satan has now become a sniveling fiend, though still eloquent, searching for an animal body to possess so that he can seduce Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. The sexual symbolism of the serpent rearing its head and presenting itself to Eve is one of the most striking images in literature. Both preceding this and after it are long dialogues between Adam and Eve, both of which show their love for each other: first, unfallen, innocent love and then guilty love. Despite this earthbound book in many ways being the antithesis of book 1, Milton uses the same technique of relating himself and his writings to those of the epic poets of antiquity, though he maintains that he has a higher purpose for evoking a depiction of the "Fall of Man."

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Book 1 and Book 9 of Milton’s Paradise Lost offer interesting grounds for comparison and contrast. Some ways in which the two books both resemble and differ from one another include the following:

  • Both books begin with invocations (1.1-26; 3.1-55).
  • Both books present the consequences of sin: Book 1 presents the consequences of Satan’s sin; Book 9 presents the results of the sin of Adam and Eve.
  • Both books present extended depictions of Satan. In Book 1 we see Satan manipulating the other fallen angels; in Book 9 we see him deceiving and manipulating Eve.
  • Whereas Book 1 depicts Satan after he has already fallen, Book 9 depicts Adam and Eve – at least initially – in their “prelapsarian” (or “pre-fallen”) conditions. We thus are shown how much (and precisely what) they lose.
  • Book 9 is in some ways the necessary consequence of Book 1. In Book 1, Milton had promised to show how and why Adam and Eve fell ["Who first seduced them to that foul revolt? / Th' infernal Serpent . . ." (1.34-35)], and in Book 9 he does just that. In some ways, Book 9 is the crucial book of the entire poem, partly because it functions as a kind of microcosm of the poem as a whole and partly because it depicts the most important event in human history before Christ’s crucifixion.
  • In Book 1, we see the fallen angels enduring the fate they deserve; in Book 9, we see Adam and Eve suffering a fate they could very easily have avoided.
  • Book 1 shows us the fallen angels doing their best to adapt to their new, hellish conditions; Book 9 shows us Adam and Eve sacrificing a paradise they could easily have retained, as when Milton writes,

    "She gave him of that fair enticing fruit
    With liberal hand: he scrupled not to eat
    Against his better knowledge, not deceived. (9.996-98)."

For an excellent brief overview of the poem, please see C. S. Lewis, A Preface to Paradise Lost (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961).

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