Adam in "Paradise Lost": Fate's Ruler - and Subject
A central problem in John Milton's "Paradise Lost" in the theological issue of free will versus fate, a traditionally much-debated question. Free will is the condition of having control or direction over fate or destiny; the individual shapes his life and future through his actions. The opposing view, complete lack of free will (made famous by John Calvin), is predestination, which expresses the idea that our futures have been foreseen long before our existences, so our actions are preordained, and our paths chosen for us. Milton's presentation of the character Adam wrestles with these ideas around free will throughout Paradise Lost; while he does in fact eat the apple of his own accord, the episode is foreseen by God, in advance. In this epic poem, Milton asserts that man, through Adam's example, exercises free will; but in doing so, he exposes contradiction, makes some absorbing inquiries and asks some engrossing questions.
A cursory history of both views would be beneficial here. John Calvin, the famed apologist of predestination, defines it in this way:
In conformity, therefore, to the clear doctrine of the Scripture, we assert, that by an eternal and immutable counsel, God has once for all determined, both whom he would admit to salvation, and whom he would condemn to destruction. We affirm that this counsel, as far as concerns the elect, is founded on his gratuitous mercy, totally irrespective of human merit; but that to those whom he devotes to condemnation, the gate of life is closed by a just and irreprehensible, but incomprehensible, judgment. In the elect, we consider calling as an evidence of election, and justification as another token of its manifestation, till they arrive in glory, which constitutes its completion. As God seals his elect by vocation and justification, so by excluding the reprobate from the knowledge of his name and the sanctification of his Spirit, he affords an indication of the judgement that awaits them.
Calvin states that God has already planned the fates and actions of all men, and their deeds foreordained. The opposing view, that man has free will, is therefore the opposite; man decides his own fate, his actions shape the course of his singularly individual existence. Which, then, does Adam represent in "Paradise Lost"?
We first meet Adam in depth in Book V, where Eve awakens from her disturbing dream of temptation and Adam must assuage her fears and anxiety over such an unusual and foreboding vision. Here Adam states explicitly, in his argument against the danger of the dream, that it is not a prediction of things to happen because "she still has reason to control her actions." His exact words, on lines 116 to 121:
But with addition strange; yet be not sad.
Evil into the mind of God or Man
May come and go, so unapprov'd, and leave
No spot or blame behind: Which gives me hope
That what in...