Do you agree with the view that the “hero of Paradise Lost is not Christ, nor Adam, but Milton himself”?

The problem of hero in Paradise Lost has not been finally solved and no one single opinion has been formed on this subject. Before we give our judgment on this controversial question let us examine the claims that have been put forth for the various characters of the epic.

Some critics like Dryden are of the view that Satan is the hero of Paradise Lost and they arraign the wisdom of Milton in making a wicked and pernicious character the hero of the sublime epic. These critics consider Satan as the hero of the epic because Satan possesses heroic dimensions. He is energetic, forceful, dauntless, and inflexible in his resolve, and a leader of the fallen angels inspiring them by his indomitable will power and his firm resolve to wreck vengeance on the author of their ills. It is said that Milton endows Satan with heroic qualities. It is in the character of Satan that the poet has expressed his own pride, invincible temper, love for liberty, defiance of authority and heroic energy. It is Satan who makes bold and heroic speeches, exhibiting the fiery feelings of his heart, and his belief in war. To him weakness is a crime —
“Fallen cherub to be weak is miserable
Doing or suffering”

It is Satan who expresses heroically the fierceness of his pride and the strength of his spirit, even after his defeat, so that he catches our imagination and holds us in thrall particularly when he utters majestically—
“What though the field be lost?
All is not lost, the unconquerable will,
And study of revenge; immortal heate,
And courage never to submit or yield
And what is else not to be overcome.”

The figure of Satan is heroic in every way. He will make heaven of hell, and undertake all kinds of risks and dangers in order to take revenge on God. He is undoubtedly heroic, and is worthy to be considered the hero of the poem if Milton had not debased his character in the later books of Paradise Lost. After reading the first two books of the long epic, we are inclined to form the same opinion as Abercrombie formed when he says, “It is surely the simple fact that Paradise Lost exists for one figure that is Satan, just as the Iliad exists for Achilles, and the Odyssey for Odysseus. It is in the figure of Satan that the imperishable significance of Paradise Lost is centered; his vast unyielding agony symbolizes the profound antimony of modern consciousness.” But this opinion about Satan’s character is not kept as we proceed ahead in our study. As we come to the later books of Paradise Lost we begin to feel that Satan who had deeply impressed us in the first two books, cannot, anyhow, hold our admiration. He begins to deaden low in our esteem and the heroic force and noble resolve of the archangel ebb away, and his heroic figure gradually loses its splendour. When reaching this earth, he enters into a serpent, he is completely degraded, former pride deserts him and he presents the picture of despicable meanness when he enters “in at the mouth of a sleeping serpent and hides himself in Its many folds.” He is himself conscious of this degradation—
“O foul descent! That! that I who art contended
With Gods to sit the highest; am now constrained
Into a beast and, mixed with bestial slime.
This essence to incarnate and imbrute.
That to the height of deity inspired.” (Book X)

John Milton
From the grand and imposing figure of an indomitable warrior in the first book, he degenerates into a mean and cunning fellow trying to tempt Eve by guile. So Satan falls from the position of the hero to that of a cunning villain. He turns from a great hero into a despicable spy and cunning trickster.

Some critics are not prepared to accept Adam as the hero of the epic because he is a passive figure and does not act. Action is wanting. in Adam. He is not the principal doer and actor, but is guided by other’s suggestion. Of course, Adam is not a hero as Achilles and Ulysses who won wars and routed enemies. Adam is a nobler character than the heroes of war. He is not such a conqueror as subdued armies or nations. He is overpowered. But that does not matter. Dr. Johnson fittingly points out in Adam’s defence, ‘There is no reason why the hero should not be unfortunate except established practice, since, success and virtue do not go necessarily together. However, if success be necessary, Adam’s deceiver was crushed; Adam was restored to his Maker’s favour,, and, therefore, may securely resume his human rank”. Adam is defeated no doubt through Eve, and loses Paradise, but he achieves victory through the Messiah, and regains the Paradise ‘happier far’. Adam’s victory is of a spiritual nature. He is the real hero of Paradise Lost. God or the Messiah cannot be regarded as the hero of epic for they do. not take active part in the central action of Paradise Lost.

We have considered Adam as the Hero of the epic. But against this view is the view of the French critic Denis Saurat, who feels that Adam is not a fitting counterpart for Satan and s no match to the dominating figure of Satan. In his view the Hero of the poem should be a match to the villain and have the strength to defeat and crush him. It is only when the hero secures a triumph over the villain that he is worth to be recognized as the Hero. Adam is overpowered by the machination of the villain who brings about the defeat of Satan? It is not Adam who crushes Satan. It is Milton who crushes him by his power. Milton acts as the adversary of the Devil, and ultimately brings about the, latter’s downfall. Though Satan is Milton’s own creation in whom he invests his own love for liberty and freedom yet it seems that Milton throws himself personality into the struggle against Satan and brings about his defeat. Milton becomes a duelist against Satan. He exposes all his evils, and defeats all his evil designs. He takes up the side of Adam against Satan and foils the fallen angel. Further in Paradise Lost there are numerous references to Milton’s own life, helplessness, loss of sight, and Puritanism. Hence in the view of Saurat Milton is himself the hero of Paradise Lost.

This argument of Saurat may make an appeal, but it is not tenable. Milton reveals himself in the epic, and also exhibits his disgust of Satan, but Milton himself bus not take part in the action of the poem; He is not a character like Adam or Satan. Hence it will be not just to consider Milton as the hero of the poem. In our opinion Adam is the real hero of Paradise Lost.

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