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Sin And Death In John Milton's Paradise Lost

2555 words - 10 pages

Sin and Death in Paradise Lost

 
    Abstract: Death assumes in his original argument, with most readers of Paradise Lost, that Satan is all bad, having rejected God, and presumably that his charisma is illusory. Sin assumes, with Empson, that Satan's entire career, including his corruption of Eve, is the project of an all-powerful and sinister God. By the time Satan gets to Mt. Niphates in Book IV he is convinced of both; he recognizes that his misery is his own fault for rejecting God, but he knows that God is still in control of him and of his miseries even though he has brought them on himself. Essay begins below.         

 

In Jamaica Kincaid's novel Lucy, the narrator remembers, as a teenager, discovering why her mother named her as she did:

 

"I named you after Satan himself. Lucy, short for Lucifer. What a botheration

from the moment you were conceived." . . . In the minute or so it took for all

this to transpire, I went from feeling burdened and old and tired to feeling

light, new, clean. I was transformed from failure to triumph. It was the moment

I knew who I was. When I was quite young and just being taught to read, the

books I was taught to read from were the Bible, Paradise Lost, and some plays by

William Shakespeare. I knew well the Book of Genesis, and from time to time I

had been made to memorize parts of Paradise Lost. The stories of the fallen were

well known to me, but I had not known that my own situation could even distantly

be related to them. Lucy, a girl's name for Lucifer. That my mother would have

found me devil-like did not surprise me, for I often thought of her as god-like,

and are not the children of gods devils? (152-53)

 

Kincaid in this passage is arguing with the traditional interpretations of

Paradise Lost, but her argument is not about the hero of the poem; she is not a

Romantic. Lucy has much to say about English poetry; she hates Wordsworth, for

example, and her hatred of Wordsworth causes her to hate daffodils. But as with

"I wandered Lonely as a Cloud," in which one's reading of the poem inevitably depends on whether one lives in a climate that supports daffodils, Lucy recognizes that a reading of Paradise Lost begins with one's prior assumptions about it, and that those assumptions are going to be very different for a little girl in the Caribbean then for, say, F.R. Leavis. For Lucy, I believe, bad poetry is poetry that is specifically English and good poetry is poetry that is universal: universality, in other words, is a rejection of English nationality (translated in Lucy into a smug fondness for daffodils). This matters because Lucy reads Milton as rebellious before even considering Satan. Her hypothesis that the children of gods are devils is not about Milton's Satan, but about Milton's God. If the children of gods are inevitably devils, then the world is ...

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