Elucidate the importance of The Fourth Book of Paradise Lost.

hellAnswer: In the Fourth book of Paradise Lost, we are given more insight into the character of Eve and Satan. As Eve narrates her first waking moments after her own creation, we are immediately introduced to Eve’s weakness, vanity. She awakes near a lake and sees an image of herself and thinks the images beautiful. Modern readers, especially coming from a feminist perspective, might view Eve’s admiration of herself not as vanity or a weakness, but rather as a gesture of self-confidence and independence from man (especially as she finds her own image so much more beautiful than Adam’s ).

This self confident independence, however, is quickly lost. It is quite clear Milton believes in the traditional patriarchal system, complete with the gender stereotypes of 17th century Europe. Milton views the hierarchy of Adam being submissive to God and Eve being submissive to Adam as a natural God-given order: “God is thy law, thou mine,” Eve says, “to know no more is woman’s happiest knowledge and her praise.” Later, when both Raphael and Michael come to visit the pair in separate episodes with messages from God, Eve will leave the conversation and only Adam will hear the message. The implication, of course, is that it is men who are in contact with God, and women are to learn about God only through men.

Satan, as a character, has lost some of his original glamour and reader sympathy. It is clear in this book that Satan’s argument for fighting against God is increasingly irrational. He clearly regrets his decision, the sight of so much light and beauty in the Garden of Eden and in the creatures of Adam and Eve seems to break his heart. He even admits, for the first time in the poem, that God loved him when Satan was serving him. Why then, does he continue? Satan’s character in this book sums up Milton’s view of evil from a psychological and theological viewpoint. Theologically, it is highly irrational, and therefore outside of the grace of God. Implicit in this irrationality, however, is that true evil is done with full consciousness of what is being turned away from. Satan remembers heaven, he remembers what goodness is, he knows how to act good, and yet he refuses to do so. He has knowledge, but he uses it irrationally. Psychologically, of course, Satan is in increasing pain, especially when he comes close to beauty and God’s light. He is no longer simply in physical pain when he is in the geographic location of hell; he is hell and brings this hell wherever he goes. His remorse is tangible.

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Note the continuing micro to macro connection of Satan’s interior state with his exterior state. Satan is physically becoming less and less of the great angel he was at the beginning of the epic. In this book he turns into a lesser angel, a cherub, then into actual beasts, lions and tigers, to get closer to Adam and Eve. Finally, he lowers himself to the level of a toad and then a snake to tempt Eve. When he returns to hell, his appearance will be monstrous. His physical disintegration is in line with his moral decay.

The description of Eden, and man’s job in it, reflects Milton’s theology on a broader level as well. Eden, as discussed before, is ordered, tame, domiciled nature. Still, Adam and Eve must wake every day and go to work. Their work, however, is pleasurable. It appears to consist, mostly, of trimming a few bushes, looking into each other’s eyes, and praising God and his creation. It is easy work and Adam and Eve enjoy it.

In the same way, love, and, it is arguable, even sex has taken place in the Garden between Adam and Eve. But they are a pure, uncorrupted love and love making. It is untainted by lust, the animal instincts, and free from ego. In the same way that the work in the Garden is a joy because Adam and Eve are in constant praise of God, love and love making in the garden are pure and a joy because the couple is practicing unselfish, rational love.

Milton again takes the characteristics of the macrocosms, in this case the ordered nature of the Garden, as a reflection of how the ethics of the microcosm should work, in this case the morality of man. In the same way that Eden is ordered, not prone to radical bursts of natural cataclysms (or even variable weather) but maintaining a steady growth under God’s rule, man himself should order his passions with reason and keep them steady under God’s eyes. If this is done, then mankind, like the Garden, will grow healthy and safe. Love and love making fit this same theology: ordered love making, unselfishly given, rational, impassioned and without the animal instincts, will create a healthy and steady growing love.

Later, Eden, and creation at large, will become uncontrollable. Floods, fire, famine, harsh weather will all make man’s life difficult. Animals will prey on other animals, violence will exist at all levels of nature, and fear will be commonplace. In the same way, post-Fall man will have to deal with his nearly uncontrollable passions and corruption. But in this pre-Fall Eden and Adam, life is ordered, good, directed toward God.

Much is made of the astrology and astronomy in Milton as seen in the later end of this Book IV. Suffice it to say here that, theologically, it follows the same ordered/reason theme as the Garden and as Adam and Eve’s love. The sun, moon, planets, and stars turn in an ordered manner, following a destined plan. God is actually Aristotle’s unmoved mover, the first cause, who first pushes the outer “globe” of the cosmos to set all the other cosmos in motion. When Adam and Eve fall, the earth becomes difficult, Adam and Eve’s relationship is corrupted, and the cosmos themselves become irrational.

Turning to the poetic elements of the text, Milton’s use of the epic simile is worth pointing out. An epic simile is one in which the image is not just referred to, but elaborated, perhaps forming a complete scene of incident itself. For instance, in line 159, Milton begins by talking about the wind, but goes on to liken it to ships sailing past the Cape of Hope. The description of the ships and the emotions of their passengers is then described for seven more lines. Milton uses this epic simile as a window into a smaller story, a window which takes one away from the immediacy of the story at hand and often brings one to another part of the world all together.

In terms of drama, the ending of Book IV may be unsatisfying, but in terms of theology, it reminds the reader of where the real power in the universe resides.

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