Milton's Purpose of Making Satan the Antihero in John Milton’s Paradise Lost
Whenever possible Satan attempts to undermine God and the Son of God who is the true hero of the story. Throughout the story Milton tells the readers that Satan is an evil character, he is meant not to have any redeeming qualities, and to be shown completely as an unsympathetic figure. Satan’s greatest sins are pride and vanity in thinking he can overthrow God, and in the early part of the poem he is portrayed as selfish while in Heaven where all of God’s angels are loved and happy.
One source of Satan’s fascination for us is that he is an extremely complex and subtle character. It would be difficult, perhaps impossible, for Milton to make perfect, infallible characters such as God the Father, God the Son, and the angels as interesting to read about as the flawed characters, such as Satan, Adam, and Eve. Satan, moreover, strikes a grand and majestic figure, apparently unafraid of being damned eternally, and uncowed by such terrifying figures as Chaos or Death. Many readers have argued that Milton deliberately makes Satan seem heroic and appealing early in the poem to draw us into sympathizing with him against our will, so that we may see how seductive evil is and learn to be more vigilant in resisting its appeal.
On one face of the scales, God puts the results of Satan’s desertion of the war, and on the other, He puts the results of Satan staying to battle Gabriel (Frye, pp. 12). The face that illustrates him staying to battle the angel flies away, symbolizing its weightlessness and irrelevance. The scales signify the fact that God and Satan are actually not on opposite sides of a battle; God is all-powerful, and Satan and Gabriel depend on Him. The scales compel Satan to recognize the futility of fighting against God’s angels again.
Frye, Northrop, The Return of Eden: Five Essays on Milton’s Epics, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1965. Print.
Milton, John. Paradise Lost. In The Norton Introduction to Literature. Alison Booth and Kelly J. Mays, eds. Portable 10th ed. New York: Norton, 2011. Print.
Stone, James W. “Man’s effeminate s(lack)ness:” Androgyny and the Divided Unity of Adam and Eve, Milton Quarterly 31 (2): 1997. 33–42.