Character Analysis of Satan in Paradise Lost Book 1 Notes

Character Analysis of Satan


Satan occupies the most prominent position in the action of Paradise Lost. Though the main theme of the poem is the “Man’s first disobedience” yet it is the character of Satan which gives a touch of greatness to this epic. Al the poetic powers of Milton are shown on the delineation of the majestic personality of the enemy of God and Man, i.e. Satan.


As it is shown in Paradise Lost Book-I that the character of Satan is a blend of the noble and the ignoble, the exalted and the mean, the great and the low, therefore, it becomes difficult to declare him either a hero or a wholly villain.


In Paradise Lost Book-I we can hardly doubt his heroic qualities because this book fully exhibits his exemplary will-power, unsurpassable determination, unshakable confidence and unbelievable courage. However, the encyclopedia of religion removes some of the confusion from our minds regarding Satan’s character in the following words:


“Satan means the arch-enemy of men, the adversary of God and of Christianity, a rebel against God, a lost arch-angle.”


Milton also confirms the remarks and tells us that Satan is an archangel. When God declares the Holy Christ his viceroy, Satan refuses to accept God’s order because he himself is a confident for it, his false strength and pride leads him to revolt against God for the fulfillment of his lust for power but he and his army suffers a heavy defeat and throw headlong into the pit of hell.


Milton’s description of Satan’s huge physical dimension, the heavy arms he carries, his tower like personality and his gesture make him every inch a hero. In his first speech, Satan tells Beelzebub that he does not repent of what he did and that defeat has brought no change in him at all. He utters memorable lines: “What though the field be lost?

All is not lost – the unconquerable will,


And study of revenge, immortal hate,


And courage never to submit or yield.”


Actually he is not ready to bow before the will of God and is determined to wade and eternal war by force and will never compromise. He proudly calls himself the new possessor of the profoundest hell and foolishly claims to have a mind never to be changed by force or time. As he says:


“The mind is its own place, and in itself

Can make a heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.”


Although Satan undergoes perpetual mental and physical torture in hell yet he is fully satisfied because he is at liberty to do whatever he likes, without any restriction. The following line clearly indicates his concept of freedom.


“Better to reign in Hell, the Serve in Heaven.”


It can be said without any doubt that Satan gives an evidence of great leadership qualities which are certainly worthy of an epic hero and Beelzebub appreciates him for his undaunted virtues as the commander of undaunted virtue as the commander of fallen angels. His speech to the fallen angels is a sole roof of his great leadership because it infuses a new spirit in the defeated angels who come out of the pit of hill with their swords and are ready to face any danger regardless of their crushing and humiliating defeat at the hands of God. We fully laud Satan’s views on the themes of honour, revenge and freedom, but we cannot help sympathizing him because he embodies evil. He is the embodiment of disobedience to God.


As the poem proceeds, the character of Satan degenerates and he fails to produce any impression to true heroism because he is morally a degraded figure. When we closely examine his addressed to his followers, we find that it is full of contradictions and absurdities, because he tries to throw dust into the eyes of his comrades. In fact, on the one hand, he says that they will provoke war against God and on the other hand, he wants peace which is only possible through submission.

Then, on reaching the earth, he enters into a serpent and is completely degrades. Pride is the cause of his fall from Heaven – Pride that has ‘raised’ him to contend with the mightiest. But where is that pride when the Archangel enters into the mouth of a sleeping serpent and hides himself in its “Mazy folds”. Here from the grand figure that he is in the beginning, he degenerates into a man and cunning fellow, and then he tries to tempt Eve by guile. So, Satan degenerates from the role of a brave hero to that of a cunning villain as C. S. Lewis remarks:


“From hero to general, from general to politician, from politician to secret service agent, and thence to a thing that peers in at bed -room or bath-room window and thence toad, and finally to a snake – such is the progress of Satan.”


So, it can easily be said in the light of above mentioned facts that Satan is out and pouter hero in Book-I of Paradise Lost, but in Book-IX he appears before us every inch a villain because of his evil design and he himself says that his chief pleasure lies in the destruction of mankind which lowers him in our estimation as a hero.

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