In order to be able to discover the relevance Milton and Paradise Lost still have today in a post-modernist society, I believe that it is imperative to first be able to understand and appreciate Milton in the context and times in which this epic, Paradise

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University of Cape Town

Clare O’Donovan


ELL305F Seminar: Milton

Essay 1

K. Sole

Due Date: 17/05/2005

Word Count: 2000

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Signed:                                        Date: 2005-05-13

In order to be able to discover the relevance Milton and Paradise Lost still have today in a post-modernist society, I believe that it is imperative to first be able to understand and appreciate Milton in the context and times in which this epic, Paradise Lost was written. This essay will aim to uncover some of the most important and prevalent themes found in Paradise Lost, and to explain how and why these themes remain so relevant in a society which is so far removed from the era Paradise Lost was written in. Some of the themes I will be discussing deal with important issues such as gender and colonialism.

The issue of colonialism, which Milton deals with at great length, is very interesting in relation to the current times. Evans (1996) brings to the reader’s attention that during the time that Paradise Lost was written, the colonisation of America was well under way and publicized to the masses. Thus it is not surprising that the text of Paradise Lost is liberally sprinkled with references to the colonisation of America, (p.11) such references are interesting still to today’s reader of Paradise Lost. This is due to the fact that the world is still reeling from the effects of colonisation. Although such events took place so many years ago, ripples still have an effect on today’s society. One instance where we can se the detrimental effects of colonisation still taking place today is in Ireland. Milton, according to Achinstein (1999) “supported the colonisation of Ireland as he deemed the Irish as irredeemably barbaric, therefore undeserving of human rights.” (p.70). The Irish Catholics are still fighting with the English over a protestant colonisation which occurred centuries ago.

Milton, in his epic Paradise Lost deals with the theme of colonialism throughout the poem. As Evans (1996) brings to our attention, “those who journeyed into the new world were portrayed in early literature as being more ambitious, more energetic, and more daring than those who stayed behind.” (p.61) Evans (1996) also makes the point that Paradise lost “calls into question the character and motives of the early explorers and settlers.” (p.62); the same may be said about the current Iraq war and the motives of America. The theme of colonisation begins right at the start of the poem as Satan in Book 1 says that “a fame in Heav’n” has spread stories of “new Worlds” (650-651) This new world at the time would be related back to America and the British colonisation. This colonisation is further explored in Books 2 and 3. As Evans (1996) brings to our attention, we accompany Satan on the “voyage” (2.426, 919) across the “gulf” (2.441) of chaos to “the coast of Earth” (3.739) this theme of America’s colonialism and the native people found by the British is once again followed closely by Milton. As has been discussed Eden in Paradise Lost is seen as the new world, and Adam and Eve are the natives of this colony of Gods. Evans (1996) brings to the readers attention that the colonists of America were presented with a problem of the natives descent. “According to the book of Genesis, Adam and Eve were the original ancestors of the entire human race, yet the New World was populated by men and women who were separated from the old by a vast ocean, and who could not have descended from the first pair.” (p.86) The conclusion it appears came in the form of John Donne, (as cited by Evans 1996, p.87) who said that “as though man there, from Paradise so great a distance were, as yet the newes could not have arrived bee of Adams tasting the forbidden tree.” Thus the speculation became that the Native Americans were free from the original sin, and like Adam and Eve before the fall, were unconscious of their bodies and freely walked about naked. This similarity is seen in Book 5, where Adam walks out to meet Raphael “without more train

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Accompani’d than with his own complete

Perfections; in himself was all his state…” (5.351-353)

Stevens (1999) brings to our attention the very interesting point that the colonisation mentioned in Paradise Lost refers not to America, but to England. In fact he says that “Adam and Eve become Americas only at their most intense moment of shame.” (p.92) this refers to the moment after the fall in Book 9.

“…to that first naked Glory. Such of late

Columbus found th’ American so girt…” (9.1115-6) This is in direct contrast to the argument made by Evans as previously mentioned ...

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