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Milton's Purpose of Making Satan the Antihero in John Milton’s Paradise Lost

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Milton’s Satan in Paradise Lost is a complex character meant to be the evil figure in the epic poem. 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.

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Some readers consider Satan to be the hero, or protagonist, of the story, because he struggles to overcome his own doubts and weaknesses and accomplishes his goal of corrupting humankind. This goal, however, is evil, and Adam and Eve are the moral heroes at the end of the story, as they help to begin humankind’s slow process of redemption and salvation. Satan is far from being the story’s object of admiration, as most heroes are. Nor does it make sense for readers to celebrate or emulate him, as they might with a true hero. Yet there are many compelling qualities to his character that make him intriguing to readers

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.

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Besides these two falls, the author uses numerous linked images. Considering that an object that has fallen is no longer erect, Milton writes that “man’s woe” (Book 11.632) begins with “man’s effeminate slackness” (Book 11.634). He implies that Adam was femininely negligent when he listened to his wife and ended up eating the forbidden fruit, hence his fall. Instead of standing up as a man, he allowed Eve to influence his thinking and disobeyed God’s command (Stone, pp. 38).As Satan gets ready to battle Gabriel when he is found in Paradise, God makes an image of a pair of golden scales to show in the sky. 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.

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In brief, Paradise Lost is a poem that requires careful attention, a challenge in this digital age, but it is well worth it to read a sentence at a time, a book at a time

I cannot say what will appeal to other contemporary readers—meditations on free will, the psychological nature of hell, the poignant goodbye to Eden—but I know those who take the time to do a spiritual reading of the classic poem will reap its rewards.

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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.

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