The characters of God, Stan, and Jesus are also significant in this epic and because they are considered valuable in their roles in the poem, we can assume that Milton found similar value with these characters in life itself. Through these characters, Milton is presenting not only a hierarchy but also a way in which things should operate. God's supremacy is unquestionable in this realm and demonstrated early in the poem through events leading to Satan's attempt to overthrow him. In addition, Adam and Eve have free will, which also allows us to see the power of God through his creations. He did not create robots but real creatures that can make their own decisions -- even when they will be the worst decision of their lives. This foundation provides the perfect backdrop to the story of man and his behavior as he walks this earth.
Adam and Eve prove to be the most effective characters is Milton's attempt to depict mankind. They are the ultimate man and woman endowed with qualities that their descendants could only dream about as they contemplate perfection. Perfection becomes the thing that Adam and Eve take for granted and in this act, they are the most human they will ever be and for this we can certainly relate to them. Milton points to their mistakes and the ensuing consequences of them. Their mistake is what makes them like us it is through their mistake that Milton can espouse his beliefs. One of the most significant things Milton does in regard to their mistake is call it a sin. He writes, "they knew, and ought to have remembered" (Milton Paradise Lost X.12) but as we all know, they did not remember until it was too late. The significance of the mistake and the sin is that Adam and Eve chose to disobey even when they knew that it was wrong. This illustrates their stubborn human nature as well as their access to act on their free will. The couple deliberately chose to step away from God's truth at that moment and, as a result, they "deserved to fall" (X.16). The event was a sad one for all involved. We read that the angels were "mute and sad/for Man; for of his state, they knew" (X.19). The significance of the sin was far too great for Adam and Eve to actually contemplate, so Milton has the entire heaven reeling from what has occurred. The couple eventually experiences "guilt,/and shame, and perturbation, and despair,/Anger, and obstinacy, and hate and guile" (X.112-4), emotions that make them more human than they would probably like to be. Their fallen nature is something that has been handed down from generation to generation and this is the image of man that Milton wanted us to remember not out of sadness but out of the hope that we will not repeat their mistake and sin against God.
The judgment of man begins to explore Milton's notions on how mankind should behave. The very basic underlying theme we have here is that in order for society to operate smoothly and for harmony to be achieved, there should exist a hierarchy in which listens to and obeys God. Because of the free will that man feels so inclined to follow, punishment becomes an undesired effect for sin. We learn from Adam how important it becomes to follow the will of God; he tells us at the end of the epic:
Henceforth I learn that to obey is best,
And love with fear the only God, to walk
As in his presence, eve to observe
His providence, and on him sole depend. (XII.561-4)
Here Adam is explaining what he has learned from his terrible mistake. From his experience, he understands the full scope of individual responsibility and, unfortunately, this is something that he could not have done so well in his innocent, sinless state. Adam learns that responsibility requires more than doing things because they sound good or because they feel good. Adam and Eve made poor choices based upon their human desires and curiosity. They made the mistake of leaning upon their own understanding and logic to make a choice. This is clearly not the way to make decisions, as Milton points out. His point is for us to learn from their mistakes. It is important to note that while Adam and Eve do make a disastrous mistake, their lives and their relationships with God are by no means over. The relationship has simply changed and while things are good, they will never be as good as they were before but this is simply the way of life.
Milton also illustrates desirable human behavior in other works as well. The characters of Jesus and Samson in his poems "Paradise Regained" and "Samson Agonistes" also serve as reminders on how to behave in this world. Throw these men's experiences, we can learn lessons just as we learned with Adam and Eve. Jesus learns the significance of temptation while Samson becomes knowledgeable in reconciliation with God. Both characters illustrate how we should live our lives in response to creatures of God. Jesus teaches us how important it is for us to obey God and submit to him first and foremost. Samson teaches us that repentance is necessary for reconciliation with God. These two men are worlds apart as far as their place in the hierarchy of things but they are very similar in that they teach us how to live in a world that is created by God. While we are surrounded by technology and other distractions, we should never forget that this world is a product of God's own hands.
The contrasting characters allow us to see how Milton attempts to teach us how to behave in a world of temptation and evil. Jesus is different from Samson in that he is not of a fallen nature and he does not sin. Samson, however, is the opposite of this in that he is a fallen man in almost every respect of the word. Samson becomes the perfect poster child for humans in his condition and this is helpful to us because we can relate to him and his circumstance. Milton wants us to look long and hard at Samson and see his tragedy as something that could easily happen to us in that we are all blind in one way or another. We read, "A little onward lend thy guiding hand/to these dark steps, a little further on" (Milton Samson Agonistes 1-2) and know that this poem is beginning with suffering that is intense and also changes lives. We read:
Why was my breeding ordered and prescribed
As of a person separate to God,
Designed for great exploits, if I must die
Betray'd, captiv'd, and both my eyes put out (Milton Samson Agonistes 30-3).
Here we see the significance of human behavior in relation to a connection with God. Samson sees himself as separated from God and this is nothing short of tragic.
In Jesus, we see the benefits of submission and obedience. Because we see these characteristics employed by the Son of God, we know that they are most desirable in developing a relationship with God and living up to out full potential as human beings. These two characteristics are absolutely necessary when it comes to profitable human behavior. When we strive to be more like Jesus, we are becoming more like God, which is the:
True image of the Father, whether throned
In the bosom of bliss, and light of light
Conceiving, or remote from Heaven, enshrined
In fleshly tabernacle and human form,
Wand'ring the wilderness; whatever place,
Habit, or state, or motion, still expressing
The Son of God, which Godlike force endued
Against th' attempter of thy Father's throne
And thief of Paradise. (IV.596-604).
Here Milton allows us to see the perfect example through Jesus.
Milton had a specific idea of human behavior and he was not inhibited about expressing those ideas in any way. He firmly believed that religion was significant to a fulfilling life and his writing allows us to see just how important religion and a relationship with God are. Human behavior is based upon every character that he emphasizes and it is through the lessons of these characters that we learn best how to live.
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