Please expand on the themes of disobedience and punishment in Book 1 of Paradise Lost.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The epic poem Paradise Lost by John Milton tells of the fall of man as written in the book of Genesis in the Bible. It describes a war between the angels, the casting out from heaven of Satan and his demons, the temptation of Adam and Eve by Satan, and...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

The epic poem Paradise Lost by John Milton tells of the fall of man as written in the book of Genesis in the Bible. It describes a war between the angels, the casting out from heaven of Satan and his demons, the temptation of Adam and Eve by Satan, and the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. The primary themes of the entire story are disobedience and punishment. Satan and his minions are punished for their disobedience in rebelling against God, and Adam and Eve are punished for their disobedience in heeding the voice of Satan instead of the voice of God.

In book 1, Milton addresses the themes of disobedience and punishment in the prologue. He starts off his explanation of the poem by saying:

Of man's first disobedience, and the fruit

Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste

Brought death into the world, and all our woe,

With loss of Eden, till one greater man

Restore us, and regain the blissful seat....

These first lines summarize Milton's intention in writing the poem. In pointing out "man's" disobedience, Milton means mankind and not one single man. He is writing not only about the disobedience and punishment of Adam and Eve, but also the sins of all mankind. The "forbidden tree" acknowledges Adam and Eve's transgression in disobeying and eating what God had forbidden them to eat. "Whose mortal taste brought death into the world" is a reference to original sin—that is, the disobedience of Adam and Eve that tainted all future generations of mankind. The "greater man" is an allusion to Christ, whose sacrifice in the New Testament restores mankind to God's grace.

After the prologue, Milton focuses on the disobedience and punishment of Satan. Milton writes that "his pride had cast him out from Heaven" because "he trusted to have equaled the most high." In other words, Satan was so full of pride that he thought that he was God's equal instead of one of his creations. Satan's punishment is graphically depicted:

Him the Almighty Power

Hurled headlong flaming from the ethereal sky

With hideous ruin and combustion down

To bottomless perdition, there to dwell

In adamantine chains and penal fire.

The rest of book 1 tells how Satan and his demons break their chains and in defiance of God construct Pandemonium, Hell's capital. Satan explains his continuing disobedience with the famous line:

Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Book 1 of Paradise Lost introduces these themes, which are central to the work, and begins to develop a parallelism between Satan on one hand and Adam and Eve on the other. The first sentence of Book 1 introduces "Man's First Disobedience" as Milton's topic, but the main focus of this individual book is on Satan. Satan is both the first creature to sin and, later, the one who causes Adam and Eve to sin and become mortal. He sins because of his arrogance and his desire not to have God rule over him.

Similarly, in Book 9 of the epic, Eve chooses to eat the fruit because Satan tells her that the fruit will make "ye of human gods"—equal to God, as Satan tried to be when he tried to take over Heaven. In introducing disobedience and punishment by showing how Satan tried to become equal to God and how he is punished for his sin, Milton both foreshadows what will happen to Adam and Eve and demonstrates why it is that we sin. For Milton, human arrogance and the desire to be godlike is the cause of our fall, just like that of Satan.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team