Discuss the themes and literary devices in lines 120-160 of Book 1 (given in the image) of Paradise Lost by John Milton.

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coachingcorner | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

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Perhaps the most powerful literary device employed by John Milton in the first book of Paradise Lost is that of symbolism. For example, the image of any being falling from the great height of ‘the Heavens’ at dizzying speed is enough to make any reader whether modern or historical, feel very giddy and fearful. Milton’s contemporaries would have had even greater reason to feel fearful, for fear was one of their daily experiences as they tried to live by the exacting rules of a ruthless and vengeful God. Readers would have been terrified that it was a very likely scenario that they too would experience this terrifying fall, into a fiery and unforgiving hell hole - ostracized from the more obedient circle of their friends and families in cosy heaven - and also from God himself. So the ‘fall’ symbolizes the ‘fall’ of every disobedient human from the time of Eve right into the future. In ‘falling from grace’ humans experienced punishment for the ‘sin’ of disobedience because, in disobedience (looking where they shouldn’t,) they presumed to know as much as God and were therefore no longer ‘innocent.’ The author skilfully uses literary devices to give his readers a sense of what the fall might feel like - he uses colourful language evoking images of fires and merciless heat. He uses descriptions of emotion such as shock and astonishment (and later on, even tears) to help the reader empathise with the fallen angels. He makes sure we know the background in order to convey his message, using a short summary in the first few lines to get us all up to speed on what has been happening - and to make sure we know that the ‘fall’ from grace was also a spiritual fall. The erstwhile angels brought it all on themselves by disobeying God. They let themselves down. This resonates with the other themes of height, depth, good, evil, descent, ascent and power and control. One could say that the fallen angels catapulted themselves out of heaven by breaking the rules, but Satan blames God. The image of flight symbolises man’s ability to overcome sinfulness if he so desires, and to reach high aspirations of selflessness and spirituality. Satan, however, refuses to learn this lesson and makes his mind up to be a continuing force for evil - setting his face forever against God and blasting his chances for forgiveness.

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