The Power of Free Will in Milton's Paradise Lost
Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "Remember always that you not only have to be an individual, you have an obligation to be one." To be an individual means to act by choice and make decisions with free will enhanced by the power of knowledge. Only then are people true to themselves and to others. In Paradise Lost, Milton clearly conveys this concept of acting freely under God. He shows the reader that only with the freedom to choose do a person's actions become meaningful and sincere. This idea also helps Milton to explain the importance of "the fall" and God's ultimate plan. Throughout the book, free will is demonstrated not only by Adam and Eve, but also Satan and the other fallen angels, as well as God's Son. Each character's fate further explains why freedom is so important in expressing true feelings.
In Paradise Lost, Milton portrays his belief that God's real desire is power. To achieve this power, God has given to man the freedom to choose. By giving mankind, more specifically Adam and Eve, this freedom, God will have undefeatable power because those following him will be true. As Eve later states,
For we to him all praises owe,
And daily thanks, I chiefly who enjoy
So far the happier lot, enjoying thee
Pre-eminent by so much odds, while thou
Like consort to thyself canst nowhere find (Milton, 4.444-48)
By following God of their own will, the praise Adam and Eve give to God is real. It is not a dreaded act done out of fear. To take away the freedom Adam and Eve are given would be taking away God's power. This helps to convey the understanding among mankind that part of God's ultimate plan of holding power is to allow people to act on their own free will.
So how does Satan fit in to this concept of free will? Satan's character can be very misleading. From a quick reading of Milton's Paradise Lost, Satan seems to have a very sympathetic role. Initially, his actions seem motivated by spreading freedom. From this point of view, his role is protagonistic. According to Satan, Hell is run as a democracy, with him as a leader of this "unenvied throne / Yielded with full consent" (Milton, 2.23-24). As Satan states,
In Heav'n, which follows dignity, might draw
Envy from each inferior but whom here
Will envy whom the highest place exposes
Foremost to stand against the Thunderer's aim
Your bulwark, and condemns to greatest share
Of endless pain? (Milton, 2.25-30)
Through statements such as these, Satan makes it appear to the other fallen angels that the leader of Hell is an undesirable position.
Closer examination of Hell and Satan, however, reveals that Hell is not a democracy, it does not represent freedom, and Satan does not have power. To begin with, Satan and the other fallen angels are banned from Heaven and reside in Hell under God's command. While there, they set up a model democracy, which is based upon freedom and choice. Satan claims to have taken...