The Response to Loss in Paradise Lost
The themes of desire and loss are prevalent within Milton’s Paradise Lost and, through the losses experienced by the main characters and the ways in which they handle these losses, the conflict of interest in dealing with a necessary loss in order to fulfill a desire or gain a higher justice is explored.
The character of Satan is strongly representative of a character who has faced loss; he has fallen from Heaven’s ‘happy realms of light’ (85) to a ‘dungeon horrible’ (61). His loss is underscored by the images that surround him, darkness and black. This absence of light represents Satan’s absence from God; a being who was once the glorious Lucifer, brightest of all the angels has, instead, become the ‘new possessor’ (184) of ‘profoundest hell’ (251).
Further losses are experienced by Adam and Eve. Adam’s losses operate on several levels. The major cause of his loss is the beauty of Eve. The threat of losing Eve is a defining moment for Adam as he is unable to deal with the loss of his love, “it is the loss of eve certain is my resolution to die; how can I live without thee…” (906). He instead chooses to put his love for this woman before his love for God. As a direct result of this he and Eve experience the ultimate loss, the loss of paradise.
The way in which the characters of Satan and Adam and Eve deal with their losses is very different. Adam and Eve carry with them a hope of regeneration and forgiveness, it is through sinning and experiencing loss that they are able to show their diligence and right to freedom through faith. Satan, on the other hand, is eternally dammed to his loss. His pride and increasing devotion to evil condemn him to a life of darkness where he is eternally blinded to God’s Grace.
God himself is prepared to make a sacrifice and experience loss in order to gain a higher justice. A major defining event for his is the loss and sacrifice of his son. However, unlike the other characters he understands his loss and the role it plays in theological terms. He has the ability to stop his greatest loss but instead chooses not to. He understands the importance of this sacrifice in saving mankind and restoring their hopes.
Milton, John. The Poetical Works of John Milton. Chicago: Belford, Clarke & Company, 1886