Changing the World in Milton’s Paradise Lost and Cavendish’s The Blazing World
It only takes one person or one event to change the course of the world. Eve changes the world and the course of humanity when she eats from the tree of knowledge in John Milton’s Paradise Lost. In Margaret Cavendish’s The Blazing World, the Empress single-handedly changes the world she rules for the worse, and then changes it back again. The message is that our worlds are not fixed; they are ever changing—fickle and subject to one event or action. Humans must realize that the actions of even one person can produce world-altering effects.
The film Pleasantville demonstrates this idea. In the film, David, an unpopular and unhappy teenager in a post-lapsarian world, idealizes the life he sees in reruns of a black and white fifties television show called Pleasantville. After a visit from a mysterious television repairman, David and his sister Jennifer are transported into the show and into the lives of the characters Bud and Mary Sue. Jennifer, now known as Mary Sue, hates her new colorless existence, and sets about to change the town of Pleasantville. Her actions and ideas lead to the introduction of passion into Pleasantville, creating a whole new world-view for these naïve citizens.
Mary Sue’s actions, at first scorned by her brother, now known as Bud, soon begin to change him, too. He leaves his unpopular, passionless existence behind, and finds the same pleasure in the discovery of passion as do the Pleasantville citizens. Mary Sue, who once scorned Bud for his love of Pleasantville’s depiction of a worry-free fifties life, now understands the virtues of that life; she begins reading and goes to college. Bud and Mary Sue change each other, and in the process, they change the views of everyone in the town of Pleasantville.
The idea that one person or event can change the course of the world is not just something found in fiction. On September 11, 2001, one event changed Americans’ perception of their country. Pre-September 11, America saw itself as indestructible. This idea was immediately changed when terrorists hijacked planes full of people and flew them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Americans abandoned their feelings of indestructibility and security, and replaced them with new feelings of vulnerability.
There had not really been a time since the Cold War when Americans have not felt safe in their homeland. Even then, however, any attack from Russia would not have been completely unexpected. The catastrophe of September 11 caught America by surprise and revealed problems with intelligence and security that dismantled American’s attitude of arrogant superiority. The actions of a few people have severely altered the American national and world-view for a very long time. As Pat Frank states in Alas, Babylon, a book first published in 1959, but which still holds relevance today, “quite often the flood of...