In Paradise Lost, if Satan is the protagonist then who is the antagonist in the poem?

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Michael Ugulini eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Paradise Lost, if Satan is the protagonist, then the antagonist in the poem is God. Why is this so? It is because God stands in the way of Satan’s devious plans. God is the righteous being who expelled Satan from Heaven when Satan (and the third of the angels he influenced to revolt and who became demons) went against God and his laws.

Now Satan wants to reclaim his former position. Not only that, his intention originally was to ascend to the throne of God and above God’s throne. Essentially, he wants to be ‘God’ and be above all. He was jealous of God and is still jealous of God. Satan also wants to prevent human beings from having a relationship with God. Therefore, in the poem by John Milton, Satan is fighting God and also His Son, Jesus Christ.

An antagonist stands in the way of a protagonist’s plans. This is what God is doing; he is standing in the way of what Satan wants to do. In the Bible, it is evident from reading the Book of Revelation that Satan will ultimately lose. No matter what Satan does as a protagonist, he cannot win, because he is less than God.

His powers are not as great as God’s as he is a being created by God. He was given free moral agency to decide between right and wrong, and gain the rewards or suffer the consequences depending on his choices. He, and his follower-demons are not robots with no free will. They were given the freedom to choose the right way or the wrong way and they chose the latter. They are fighting God and his Son and their way of thinking is contrary to God (their antagonist).

The Book of Revelation talks of this protagonist’s defeat as it states that, “And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” (Revelation 20:10)