EngB 2034-003 (Survey of English Literature 1)

    Satan’s Evolution

            In John Milton’s epic Paradise Lost, the character of Satan is a fascinating yet evil being. His main goal is the corruption of humankind. In his soliloquy in Book IV, Satan contemplates out loud his problems with God and the reasons he was doomed from the start to fall from Heaven. Readers get an intimate glance inside Satan’s mind as he speaks to himself, and as he builds himself into a more complex character than he originally seemed.

Satan’s soliloquy begins with him lashing out at the sun- while the sun watches over the world “like the god/Of this new world” (IV. 33-4), Satan does not hesitate to state bluntly “I hate thy beams” (IV. 37). To Satan, the sun is mocking as its brightness symbolizes all that he had in Heaven. The description of the sun’s bright rays recalls Milton’s description of God in Book III: “God is light” (III. 3) and other mentions of brightness and light throughout the poem (III. 376). These opening lines of scorn for the sun show an envious side of Satan- before he fell from Heaven, he was “Clothed with transcendent brightness” (I. 86) that “didst outshine/Myriads though bright” (I. 86-87). And after the fall, Satan’s “form had yet not lost/All her original brightness” (I. 591-592). These details show that Satan is indeed resentful of the sun’s bright rays.

After addressing the sun, Satan begins to examine himself deeper. Satan blames pride and ambition for his fall from Heaven, and contemplates that even God himself is to blame, saying that “he (God) deserved no such return/From me, whom he created what I was/In that bright eminence” (IV. 42-44)- essentially, God made Satan the way he is and is to blame for his fall from Heaven. Satan then contemplates how easy it could have been to be loyal to God- the just God “Upbraided none, nor was his service hard” (IV. 45). Satan even calls praise “The easiest recompense” (IV. 47) and says that there is nothing less than to “pay him thanks” (IV. 47). However, Satan still blames God, saying, “all his good proved ill in me” (IV. 48).  Satan goes on to boast of his greatness- his position in Heaven, “lifted up so high” (IV. 49) caused him to disdain “subjection, and thought one step higher/Would set me highest, and in a moment quit/The debt immense of endless gratitude” (IV. 50-52). Milton’s use of the adjective “high” in these lines shows how Satan as an angel changed from an equal to the other angels, to eager to be above God. Satan transitions from being comparative to the other angels (“lifted up so high”), to seeking to become the superlative (“Would set me highest, and…quit/The debt…of endless gratitude”).

Satan continues in his soliloquy, stating that he does not want to be subject to “The debt immense of endless gratitude…/still paying, still to owe” (IV. 52). Satan is “Forgetful what from him I still received” (IV. 54) meaning that he does not recall what he should be grateful for in the first place. Milton makes Satan relatable in this way, as many who grow up indoctrinated with religion do not know the purpose for their beliefs and actions. Satan then continues to place blame on God for his fall, saying that if God had “ordained/Me some inferior angel, I had stood/Then happy; no unbounded hope had raised/Ambition” (IV. 58-61). If God had not made Satan so brilliant, he might not have been tempted to reach God’s level of greatness. Satan is also angry with God, because “other Powers as great (as Satan)/Fell not, but stand unshaken, from within/Or from without, to all temptations armed” (IV. 63-65). Satan resents that he did not have the resolve to resist temptation and sin. Satan says God’s love is “dealt equally to all” (IV. 68), but is cursed anyway since “love or hate/To me alike, it deals eternal woe” (IV. 69-70). Satan is no longer capable of reaping the benefits of love. This statement dissolves into Satan’s next point: Hell follows him everywhere he goes (IV. 75). He exhibits a fleeting moment of despair: “is there no place/Left for repentance, none for pardon left?” (IV. 79-80).  Satan knows that the only way he could get back into God’s good graces is through submission, something which he has no interest in doing. He would also be ashamed among the inhabitants of Hell whom he “seduced/With other promises and other vaunts/Than to submit, boasting I could subdue/Th’Omnipotent” (IV. 83-86). Satan even sounds like he regrets making those promises, saying that he pays for “that boast so vain” (IV. 87). While Hell’s denizens “adore” (IV. 89 Satan on his throne, he still falls lower, “only supreme/in misery” (IV. 91-92). The readers earn an inside look at Satan’s feelings, if one can call them that. Milton even manages to garner sympathy for the demon by depicting him as truly alone.

These few lines lead into the final part of Satan’s soliloquy, where he transforms from contemplative and brooding into a bitter monster. He says that he will never forgive God: “never can true reconcilement grow/Where wounds of deadly hate have pierced so deep” (IV.  98-100).  He also knows that if he were to ever reconcile his differences with God, he would suffer “a worse relapse/And heaver fall” (IV. 100-101). He knows that he would not be able to resist temptation should he be given a second chance. Now that Satan has resigned himself to being the king of Hell, he looks out into the Garden of Eve, and his jealousy of man becomes evident: “behold instead/Of us outcast, exiled, his new delight/Mankind created, and for him this world” (IV. 105-107). Satan is now determined to find a way to tear down mankind and reign over at least half of God’s domain (IV. 111) “as man ere long, and this new world shall know” (IV. 112-113)

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