Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2401
Adam and Eve now stand repentant before God who has sent his prevenient grace down from Heaven to soften their hearts. Their prayers are heard by the Son who intercedes for them, asking for their peaceful reconciliation with God. Though he grants them forgiveness, God will not allow them to remain in Paradise because its “pure immortal elements” will no longer mix with their sinful nature. God has provided Death as Man’s “final remedy” which will be followed by a “second life” for the just who live by faith.
God then calls an assembly of his heavenly angels to inform them of his judgment of mankind. To prevent Adam and Eve from tasting the fruit of the Tree of Life and, thereby, living in their sinful state forever, God decrees that they be removed from the garden. He appoints the archangel Michael to “drive out the sinful pair” but to soften the “sad sentence” and console them by revealing to Adam what the future will hold for them and their descendants. God will “enlighten” Michael as he foretells the future of mankind. Michael should again remind Adam and Eve of God’s covenant to destroy Satan and his evil powers through Eve’s offspring. The east gate of the garden must be closely guarded to keep the foul spirits from entering. Michael prepares to go, taking four Cherubim along to assist him.
Meanwhile, Adam and Eve greet the morning after their night of prayer. With renewed hope, Adam addresses Eve as the “Mother of all Mankind” whose offspring will destroy Satan and his evil powers. With humility Eve replies that she does not deserve such a title. Since she was the one who first brought Death into the world, she should not be honored as the “source of life.” Though they have had a sleepless night, the morning again calls them to their labors. Determined never to leave Adam’s side again, Eve suggests that they live contentedly in their fallen state, enjoying the “pleasant walks of Paradise.” Adam senses a bad omen, however, when the eagle and the lion hunt their prey for the first time.
Adam predicts a “further change” and his fears are not unfounded as a group of angels arrive from Heaven and land on a hill in Paradise. The archangel Michael approaches and Adam goes to meet him, telling Eve to stay behind. He looks more majestic than Raphael, and Adam fears that there will be some new laws imposed on them. Adam bows low as he meets Michael who does not appear in the shape of an angel but is dressed as a kingly young man in military attire.
Michael begins by telling Adam his prayers have been heard, and, though his sentence is death, by God’s grace, he will be given enough time to cover his one sinful act with “many deeds well done.” He has come to remove Adam and Eve from Paradise since God will not permit them to stay any longer. Surprised and heartbroken, Adam stands speechless, but Eve can be heard in the background, lamenting the loss of Paradise which is a blow “worse than Death.” Michael gently tells Eve that she will be going with her husband whom she is obligated to follow. Wherever he goes, she must consider that place as her native soil. Recovering from his shock, Adam humbly thanks Michael for his gentleness in breaking the news of their removal from Eden. He regrets leaving his familiar surroundings, but his biggest loss will be the presence of God. Michael tells him God is omnipresent, and he will be in the valley and the plain just as he has been in Paradise.
Michael puts Eve into a deep sleep as he leads Adam to the highest hill in Eden to inform him about future generations. Removing the film from Adam’s eyes that has been caused by his sin, Michael replaces it with three drops from the well of life. Adam falls into a trance, but Michael lifts him, asking him to observe what he will now show him. Adam is first shown the vision of Cain murdering his brother Abel out of jealousy. Adam is terrified at his first sight of death and cannot understand the justice of an evil man, Cain, murdering a good man, Abel. Michael replies that these brothers are his sinful offspring, but the bloody act will someday be avenged. Adam asks whether he has now seen Death, and Michael replies that there are many forms of Death. Immediately a vision of a lazer-house filled with people afflicted with various diseases appears before Adam’s eyes, showing him what misery the inabstinence of Eve can cause. Adam weeps out of compassion for their sufferings and wonders why Man, created in God’s image, should be forced to endure such degradation. Michael replies that it was not God’s likeness but their own they disfigured by their “ungoverned appetite,” a vice attributed “mainly to the sin of Eve.” They have perverted God’s image in themselves by refusing to follow “Nature’s healthful rules.” Adam admits that it is just, but wonders if there is no other way to die. Michael replies that Death takes many shapes, and if he lives a temperate life, he will reach old age, although he then must endure the loss of his youth and slowly lose touch with his senses. Michael tells him not to love nor hate his life, but live it well for as long as he is given life.
Michael then shows him another vision of a plain, dotted with tents of various colors. Melodious harp and organ music is playing. A group of devoutly religious men appear, and out of the tents licentious women, adorned with jewels and “wanton dress,” sing and dance for them. Each man chooses a woman who lures him into her tent. Adam is delighted at this sight since it is much more peaceful than the last two visions of hatred and death. Michael admonishes him for looking only for the pleasure in life. Those were “tents/ Of wickedness,” he says, where the seeming goddesses were actually lustful women, causing the “Sons of God” to yield their virtue to them. Adam then understands that a Man’s woe always begins with a Woman, but Raphael corrects him. Man’s woe begins with his own “effeminate slackness,” he says.
Adam is shown another scene where a race of giants is at war, and slaughter and carnage are everywhere. A council is held to settle the dispute when one middle-aged man rises to negotiate peace and speak the truth. He is taken away to Heaven in a cloud, however, and the violence continues. In tears, Adam laments their inhumane treatment; Michael tells him these are the children of those ill-mated marriages he saw in the tents. The righteous man he saw in the vision was hated for being the only one to tell the truth.
The vision of war disappears and Adam is shown the life of people who wile away their time in luxurious, sinful pleasures. Noah calls them to conversion and repentance, but they refuse to listen. He is the only righteous man left in a world of evil. He builds an ark and when all his goods, animals, and family are aboard, God seals the door. When the flood comes, all people are drowned except Noah and his family.
When Adam sees the end of all his offspring, he weeps again and wishes he had not seen the visions of the future. It is enough to bear things one day at a time, Adam says, but he asks Michael to unfold the rest of the story just the same. The storm is abated and the retreating sea leaves the ark on a mountain top. A messenger, in the form of a dove, is sent out and returns with an olive branch. Dry ground appears, and Noah and his family disembark. Adam rejoices that God would now “raise another world” from one just man. He questions the meaning of the rainbow and Michael explains that it is God’s covenant that he will never again destroy the Earth by flood. It is not until the last days that fire will purge both Heaven and Earth where the just shall dwell forever.
In the first edition of Paradise Lost, the last two books were included in Book X. Milton divided this book into three sections for his second edition to include Books XI and XII not only because Book X had been relatively lengthy, but also for structural reasons. In Book XI Michael presents the biblical history to Adam in visions, and in Book XII he simply narrates the biblical events. Only five lines were added to the second edition in which Milton notes the shift from the “world destroyed” after the fall to the “world restored” (P. L., XII, 3) after Christ’s resurrection.
Many commentators have criticized the last two books of Paradise Lost, seeing them as an accessory to the epic since the fall has already taken place along with Adam and Eve’s judgment and consequent repentance. For an understanding of Book XI, it is necessary to return to Milton’s theme in Book I. “Of Man’s first disobedience, and the fruit/ Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste/ Brought death into the world, and all our woe” (P. L., I, 1–3). Adam’s visions of future generations in Book XI are a living example of the “death” and “woe” that has been brought about by his disobedience and fall. By vicariously experiencing the sorrows in these visions of human history—murder, disease, prostitution, idle pleasures, and war—Adam sees the magnitude of his sin and slowly gains a clearer understanding of the justification for his expulsion from Paradise. God has commanded Michael to drive Adam and Eve out of Paradise “though sorrowing, yet in peace.” It is Michael’s duty to help them see their loss of Paradise as a just punishment, but he must not destroy their hope for God’s plan of redemption that is set forth in Book XII. Milton’s purpose in his epic is to “justify the ways of God to men” (P. L., I, 26). Michael must, therefore, help Adam understand that God administers mercy along with justice. Adam cannot fully comprehend the prophecy of God’s redemptive mercy through his Son in Book XII until he experiences shame and despair for the wide-scale misery he has caused by his sin of disobedience.
At the beginning of Book XI, the tone changes from the hopelessness and despair seen in Adam’s soliloquy in the previous book, to that of repentance and hope. Adam addresses Eve as the “Mother of all Mankind.” It is through Eve’s offspring that Man will live again. God has promised that “thy seed shall bruise our foe,” Adam says, and Eve is humbled by the fact that she, who brought death on all mankind, should now be honored as “the source of Life.” When Adam prefaces his greeting to Eve with “hail to thee,/ Eve,” we are reminded of Raphael’s comparable greeting to Eve in Book V.
On whom the Angel “Hail”
Bestowed, the holy salutation used
Long after to blest Mary, second Eve.
P. L., V, 385–87
In Book XI we again identify Eve with Mary, the second Eve, whose seed (Christ) will crush Satan’s strength by defeating Sin and Death. It is ironic that Eve is associated with Sin, Death, and the fall, but, at the same time, holds the promise of redemption and life as the “Mother of all things living.”
Adam approaches the archangel Michael with some reservation, seeing him as a majestic-looking monarch who brings “great tidings” from God’s throne. He does not appear as the “sociably mild” Raphael with whom he has shared food and pleasant conversation in Books V-VIII. The seriousness of Michael’s mission, Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Paradise, lends an air of solemnity and awe to his manly appearance. Unlike Raphael, God’s spirit will be with him to inspire him in his somber task. “I shall thee enlighten.” This forewarns us that Michael’s task is of a divine nature. When he arrives, Michael needs “no preface” but goes straight to the business at hand. He minces no words, promptly informing Adam and Eve that, although grace has been granted, they must leave Paradise. In administering God’s punishment, it is logical that Michael would be portrayed with more severity than Raphael.
Though he has heard much about Death as the punishment for his sin, Adam finally sees Death for the first time when Michael presents the scene of the evil brother murdering the one who is righteous. This alludes to the story of the first murder in Genesis. “Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him” (Genesis 4:8). Adam is appalled at the injustice of the evil man killing the upright one who was devoted to God. Michael informs Adam that these brothers will be his offspring. He points out that, though the bloody deed will be avenged at the time of judgment, justice is not necessarily carried out in a sinful world.
As Michael presents the vision of war, Adam experiences another heartrending reflection of a chaotic world with death and destruction at every hand. In the midst of the carnage, however, one man speaks out for justice, truth, and peace but is snatched up in a cloud and taken to Heaven. This is an allusion to Enoch who was a righteous man. “And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him” (Genesis 5:24). Noah too is the “one just man alive” who stands alone as an example of righteousness in a dark age of licentiousness and moral degradation. He preaches conversion and repentance but, like Enoch, no one will listen to him. Milton is fond of the moral image of one righteous man who stands alone against the hostile crowd. Abdiel’s independent rebuke of Satan’s heresy against God in the war in Heaven has been reviewed elsewhere in the text. Abdiel was also the only dissenter. “Among the faithless, faithful only he” (P. L., V, 896). The final exemplar, an even greater man (Christ), will be revealed in Book XII.
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