SATAN’S CHARACTER OR
THE HERO OF PARADISE LOST
One of the most prominent and distinguished achievements of Milton in the history of English literature is the depiction and portrayal of Satan’s character. He has infused all his literary and intellectual abilities to create a character like Satan. In “Paradise lost”, Satan is the most dominating and outstanding figure. At the same time, he is the most complex and controversial character in the history of world of literature. Though the main theme of the poem is, “Man’s first disobedience”, still it is the character of Satan which gives a touch of greatness to this poem. Raleigh says:
“The epic value of paradise lost is centered in the character and achievements of Satan.”
Milton’s purpose in writing the epic was to explain the biblical story of our ancestors i.e. Adam and Eve. Unlike classics such as the “Illiad” and the “Aenied”, it is difficult to find who the real hero is in the Paradise Lost. However, the most dynamic and motivating character is of Satan. Milton surrounds his Satan with epic material and substance. Milton has gathered in him a large number of qualities which are associated with great personalities of literature. When we study the character of Satan, we find that he is brave and heroic like Prometheus, a sincere, devoted and a powerful leader like Napoleon. He is noble like Robinhood and in oratory, he can be compared with Antony and Socrates. In deception and conspiracy, he can be compared with Ulysses.
The character of Satan is the most exalted and most depraved character in “Paradise Lost.” That’s why, Satan’s character has been controversial among all the readers and critics. Satan possesses all the characteristics of an epic hero. He is energetic, forceful, dauntless , and inflexible in his resolve, a leader of courage, the true and sincere supporter of his followers, a leader of the fallen angels with unflinching courage inspiring and motivating them to remain steadfast in their obduracy and stubbornness by his indomitable power . No doubt, he is an outcast from heaven, hell is at his feet, sin and death are at his heels and mankind is his easy prey. Self-exaltation is the motive of all the speeches delivered by Satan. Even in his time of crises and defeat, he is not ready to give in before any type of situation. He says:
“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.”
These words bring before us the main trait of Satan. He is determined and ready to wage an eternal war by force and will of God against the authority of God. Even after being an outcast from heaven, he is still optimist. He is proud to think that he is the new and sole possessor of the hell. He claims that he has a mind that will never change by force or time. He proudly utters: “The mind is its own and in itself can make a heaven of hall, a hall of heaven.” Further he declares logically “Evil” the main pursuit and motivating force of his action. He says: “To do ought good never mill be our task.”
Although Satan faces severe mental and physical torture in hell, he is fully satisfied to think that he has got the freedom to do whatever he likes without any restriction. He says: “Better to reign in hell, than serve in heaven.”
The towering personality of Satan is striking and leaves a powerful impact on our minds. He appears before us as a giant sprawling over the burning lake of fire. He has the genius and charm, great beauty, great emotion and great daring. In all the things discussed, he is proudly eminent. He is ready to face any difficulty or challenge and adopt any responsibility. With his fiery speeches, he has the ability to foster new zeal and zest in his followers. When we see his followers lying in deep disappointment, he awakens them from deep slumber to take some action on the request made by Beelzebub. “If once they hear that voice they will soon resume.” When Satan addresses them, we see that his followers get new energy and arise out of their deep slumber. To encourage and cajole his followers, he calls them “Matchless Powers”. He says:
“Princes, Potentates, Warriors, the Flowers of Heaven,
Once yours, now lost.”
On one occasion, we see Satan rebukingBeelzebub when he shows some despair. Satan says: “To be weak is miserable doing or suffering.” In short, Satan has so many qualities that gain our respect and admiration. He has indomitable courage, determination and the power of recovering from defeat. All these qualities make him a good hero. Robert Burn says: “Give me a spirit like my favourite hero, Milton’s Satan.”
But as the poem proceeds, the character of Satan loses the impression it creates earlier. We see that he is a degenerated figure whose main shortcoming is his pride. It is pride which causes his fall from the heaven. It is his pride that incites him to have an eternal war against God.
“Ah gentle pair, ye little think how high
Your change approaches, when all these delights
Will vanish, and deliver ye to woe
Though I unpitied.”
This is the point where Satan’s downfall starts. But we are surprised to see him losing his pride when he is in the mouth of sleeping serpent. He hides himself in its “Mazy Folds.” Where is his pride now? Here from a grand figure, he becomes a man and a cunning fellow who is trying to tempt Eve by guile. We can say that in the beginning, we are impressed by his speeches and become ready to call him the hero. Even a close and minute observation of the speeches delivered by Satan shows that they are full of contradictions and absurdities because he is trying to throw dust in the eyes of his followers. He is trying to invoke war against God on one hand, and on the other hand he desires to have peace which is never possible with a war. However, this disillusionment is over after the study of later parts of the book and he appears before us as a cunning villain. Those who think that Satan is the hero have confined their criticism and analysis to the first two books. “The interest of the story collects at first round the character of Satan, but he grows meaner as the poem develops and his second degradation after he has destroyed innocence is one of the finest and most consistent motives in the poem.” That’s why, some critics like Dryden believe and accuse Milton on the score that Milton has made a wicked character the hero of this epic. We can say that he cannot be called a hero because impressive speeches and splendor with which Satan has been depicted are not enough to declare him the hero. “From hero to general, from general to politician, from politician to the secret service agent, and thence to a thing that peers in at bedroom or bathroom window and thence toad, and finally to a snake such is the progress of Satan.”
On the other hand, some critics believe that Adam is the hero of this drama. Why have they formed this opinion? The answer is that they think that no doubt Adam is neither a warrior nor a conqueror. He is completely a passive figure and does not act. He is not active, vigilant and a heroic figure in the same sense as Achilles is. But Paradise Lost is a different kind of epic from Iliad by Homer. As Milton himself says:
“———————– Yet argument
Not less but more heroic than the wrath of stern Achilles.”
So, one thing that raises his level in our eyes is that he is nobler than the heroes of war. He is one who suffers a lot in the poem. But, some critics like Surat raise objection against this opinion. They say that Adam cannot be declared the hero of this poem because he has no comparison with Satan. A hero must be a match to the villain. Adam is too weak to face Satan and have a combat against a villain like Satan. So, we can say that only sufferings are not enough to declare him a hero.
There are some other opinions given for the controversy of hero the poem. Some critics think that Milton himself has identified with Satan against despotic authority of Charles by giving him Satan’s pride, invincible temper, love for liberty, defiance of autocratic authority and heroic energy but this opinion has been formed through the reading of first two books. But in the later books, being a Christian he sides with Adam against Satan and in this way foils (ناکام بنانا) the plan of Satan. That’s why, sometimes Milton is declared the hero of this poem by some critics.
To sum up the discussion, we can say without any hesitation and fear of contradiction that Adam is the hero of this drama because God is pampering Adam. It is he who acts and suffers most. It is he on whom the consequences have greater effect than any other character in the story. This is what makes him the main character among Eve who is the more interesting and Satan who is the more energetic. In so far as the controversy of Satan as a hero is concerned, I think he is just the central figure and motivating force in “Paradise Lost.” He is a tragic figure like Macbeth. In basic details, he is more like Brutus. Like Oedipus, he is a tragic figure caught in the web of fate and like a true tragic hero, he is faced with “Hubris” due to his pride. In this way, he can never be the hero of this epic because he is out and out a villain whose pleasure lies in the destruction of mankind not in the welfare of mankind. This aspect of his life lowers his level and estimation as a hero in our eyes. However, one thing is clear that this poem would have been a theological thesis and not a real epic of real value if the character of Satan had not been introduced in such a forceful way. (Words: 1711)