John Milton's Paradise Lost is a work that attempts, in part, to justify the ways of God to mankind. This is a tremendous undertaking, even for as skilled a craftsman as Milton. In his attempt to achieve his goal, Milton crafts the character of Satan with seemingly great accuracy and skill. His success in breathing life into the character of Satan may be his greatest success in the epic.
Part of the reason why Milton's task is so ominous is that the seemingly indescribable pervades Paradise Lost. Throughout the epic, Milton is faced with the challenge of not only describing, but manipulating concepts and characters such as God, Paradise, and Satan. These concepts are difficult to work with because of their abstract nature. The difficulty arises from the inability of any human being to comprehend them experientially. No one can truly know what good or evil are in their purest forms. No one can describe the perfect place with total accuracy because no one has ever experienced what it is to live in such a place.
The finest example of this involves the depiction of Paradise throughout Paradise Lost. In his depiction, Milton uses his own experience and understanding to depict a place of perfection. Can he be accurate, however, without ever experiencing Paradise himself? In truth, he cannot. Each individual reader most likely has their own idea of Paradise. Whether or not these ideas coincide with those of Milton, all of them, including Milton's, are incomplete. In Milton's case, one of the striking aspects of Paradise is that Adam and Eve must both work to maintain the garden: "With first approach of light, we must be risen And at our pleasant labor, to reform Yon flow'ry arbors, yonder alleys green, Our walk at noon, with branches overgrown That mock our scant manuring, and
require More hands than ours to lop their wanton growth (IV, 624-629). It seems that Milton... Continue Reading