Last Updated on January 25, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 492
To carry out his prime aim of justifying God’s ways to man, Milton clarifies Satan’s motives by showing his machinations in Hell following his rebellion against God. The effort to subvert man having been determined, Satan journeys to Earth, arriving in Eden, where Adam and Eve dwell in perfect happiness.
Knowing Satan’s purpose, God sends the angel Raphael to instruct Adam so that he cannot plead ignorance as an excuse for disobedience. Raphael narrates an account of war in Heaven and explains God’s purpose in creating men--to provide other beings to fill heavenly places left empty by Satan’s defeat.
Despite the warnings to Adam, Satan induces Eve to taste the forbidden fruit. Adam, unwilling to live without Eve, accepts the fruit from her hand, thereby breaking his covenant with God.
The final books reveal Adam and Eve’s restoration to grace. The archangel Michael shows Adam all that will result from his sin, both good and evil, so that Adam understands and accepts God’s will. Because God promises redemption through Christ, Adam departs from Eden assured that the will of God will prevail.
In presenting the Christian story in epic form, the poem adapts classical conventions to its narrative purposes, usually associating the classical elements with the demonic. Milton’s ideal hero, unlike the warfaring classical hero, suffers and endures, like Christ and Adam.
The style--enriched by allusion, repetitions, Latinate diction, and numerous figures of speech--has never been surpassed for its grandeur. The densely textured narrative includes vast distances in time and space, long journeys, dreams, and allegorical fiction. To Milton, the central narrative represented historical truth; he had no doubt that it justified God’s ways to man.
Broadbent, John Barclay. Some Graver Subject: An Essay on “Paradise Lost.” New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1960. Serves as an excellent introduction to Paradise Lost. Acknowledging the difficulties of reading the poem, Broadbent systematically analyzes and explains Milton’s meanings.
Gardner, Helen. A Reading of “Paradise Lost.” New York: Oxford University Press, 1965. Focuses on reading the poem with a twentieth century sensibility, including discussion of twentieth century Milton criticism.
Kranidas, Thomas, ed. New Essays on “Paradise Lost.” Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969. Essays by American scholars examine such topics as form, style, genre, and theme. Links the poem with its biblical sources.
Lewis, C. S. A Preface to “Paradise Lost.” New York: Oxford University Press, 1961. Considers epic form in general and continues with a discussion of Milton’s epic, based on a specifically Christian interpretation. Rather dogmatic, this is nevertheless a lucid, enormously helpful analysis of form and doctrinal issues.
Patrides, C. A., ed. Approaches to “Paradise Lost.” London: Edward Arnold, 1968. Contains a series of lectures offering a wide variety of approaches, such as literary, doctrinal, musical, and iconographical. Illustrations. The broad range of this book is an aid to appreciating the complexity of the poem and the vast array of Milton criticism that is available.