Welcome to week two of the Paradise Lost read-a-long and Milton in May, a month-long celebration of John Milton’s writings. Below, I have some possible discussion questions if you aren’t quite sure what to write for this week’s post or if you want to “discuss” the book with the rest of us.
Contrary to what I wrote in last week’s post, I’ve decided to just keep this read-along to one Linky. That will remain on the first post of the project. I have a link in the upper right hand column of my site (underneath the Milton in May button) so you can find it again easily as the month progresses.
Discussion questions and my thoughts after the jump.
Paradise Lost Discussion Questions: Books 4-6
- As Satan explores Eden in the beginning of Book 4, he takes on many disguises. How do these, and his soliloquy at the beginning of the book, reflect his character?
- We finally have met Adam and Eve and seen them working in the Garden of Eden. What do you think of their character and their relationship? How does their relationship surprise you, or is at you would expect?
- What is the significance of Eve’s dream and Adam’s response?
- What do you think of the angel Raphael?
- What’s the difference between Satan and Abdiel during the rebellion in heaven? Why do you think Milton includes Abdiel’s story (i.e., his rebellion against Satan and return to God)?
- War! What do you think of Milton’s description of the war in heaven?
See the first Milton in May post for lists of resources.
My Thoughts: Paradise Lost, Books 4-6
[…] His ponderous shield
Ethereal tempers, massy, large and round,
Behind him cast; the broad circumference
Hung on his shoulders like the moon, … (I. 284-286)
Satan wasn’t so enticing in Book 4. I think there was something about all his disguises, from the cherub that can’t hide his anger at the sight of Eden (IV. 113-125) to the toad, “close at the ear of Eve” (IV.800).
Yet after listening to the devils for three books (with an occasional speech by God in Book 3), I thought Adam and Eve, when they finally appeared, to be weaklings. Adam’s first speech to Eve seemed superficial, and he seems oblivious to real dangers (such as when he discounts Eve’s dream and says that of course she is too good to actually commit sin; see V.95-138). But, is not this an appropriate perspective for one who has not yet learned that good and evil exist? Because he hasn’t partaken of the tree of knowledge, it is appropriate that Adam cannot completely understand evil. My young toddler doesn’t understand his own ability for wrong, let alone other’s inclinations; he just takes things one at a time, unable to see the big picture. Adam and Eve are acting like toddlers in their understanding of things. Likewise, Eve observes her reflection with todder-like delight (IV.449-470). My son can sit and stare at himself in the mirror for quite a long time, and I saw her fascination with her reflection less vanity and more innocent interest.
I rolled my eyes at Milton’s sexism. Some people a few months ago mentioned that Milton’s view of women ruined Paradise Lost for them (they couldn’t stand the book because of it) but I just see it as a sign of his era. It doesn’t bother me to read it, but I totally disagree, of course, that “their sex not equal seemed” (IV. 296) and of Eve’s “lesser faculties” (V.101). Despite Milton’s claims toward the inequality of the two, I found the relationship between Adam and Eve to be rather sweetly portrayed. I am a romantic, and I loved their sweet endearments. “Sole partner and sole part of all these joys, / Dearer thyself than all” says Adam (IV. 411-412) and “Part of my soul I seek thee, and in thee claim/ My other half” says Eve (IV.486-487). The two walk “hand in hand” (IV. 689) and are “happy in our mutual help/ and mutual love” (IV. 727-728). Not to mention their own sexual bliss together (IV. 736-754). Despite the fact that they act like toddlers, they have a marriage that I think seems rather sweet. I don’t think Milton was trying to show an unequal relationship, despite what he says.
And then, I rejoice, just a little, in the devil’s jealousy:
Sight hateful, sight tormenting! thus these two
Imparadised in one another’s arms
The happier Eden, shall enjoy their fill
Of bliss on bliss, while I to hell am thrust. (IV.505-508).
In Book 5, Adam and Eve’s entertaining of Raphael was rather amusing, although I have to admit, I found the parts in Books 5 and 6 describing the war in heaven to be rather boring compared to the discussion among Satan’s horde of devils in Books 1 and 2. I loved Homer’s war scenes in The Iliad, but Milton’s just didn’t do as much for me. Then again, I did enjoy hearing how Satan’s wounds healed themselves (VI. 325-353).
I read the Cliffs Notes after I finished, and one thing they pointed out was that the devil’s war was futile. Maybe, then, part of my boredom with the battle scene was in the futility. Of course Satan will lose. He will be cast out, for he already has been and all of this is the back story. From Book 1, we knew that Satan and his devils are deep in hell.
There is some majesty to seeing the Messiah cast out the devils, but in the end, the part of these three books that stood out to me was the perspective of Adam and Eve’s innocence in the Garden. Their innocence was such that they were unable to fully comprehend that the gift of free will that God had given them meant that they were, actually, able to sin in a way they didn’t anticipate. I look forward to reading, in Milton’s story, just how they finally will realize that free will.