Characterization of Satan in Paradise Lost

There is the problem of the character whether Satan should be dubbed as the hero or the villain of Paradise Lost, and whether Satan has been delineated in positive or negative perspective. Considerable discussion has taken place regarding the presentation of Satan.

Let us have a look upon his character and the features he possesses and then will decide whether he is a villain or a hero, or nothing but an artistic creation of John Milton’s philosophical mind.

Satan takes part in six of the twelve books of Paradise Lost. He shows up in Book I as he has been banished from heaven and is found in a state of dismay and bewilderment beside Beelzebub and other fallen angels in a pool of flames. He eats his heart out for their present situation and notes their horrible state but he does not grieve over his insurgence against God and imparts instructions that they may brace themselves for one more aggression. He crops up like a marshal and commands the remainder of the angels to follow him. In Book II, he comes out as political chief who swings the argumentation of the assembly. He is seated on the royal seat in Pandemonium and lends an ear to the recommendations of the fallen angels. When all is said and done, all the angels endorse the suggestion of Beelzebub that they will wreak havoc on mankind as revenge for their defeat. Moreover, he comes forward to explore a new world for humankind. Satan devises a plan to misdirect Uriel in Book III. His metamorphosing into another shape, his lecture and his talking to himself bring out some of his peculiarities like his capacity of metamorphosis, his ability of trickery and deceit, his intrinsic visceral enviousness after witnessing genesis in its magnificence. In Book IV, Satan makes a resolution to engage human beings in his exacting revenge against God. His inward feeling of agony and distress, his jealousy towards humankind and his despondency that he can never aspire to look for clemency and go back to heaven and his ethical and bodily deterioration and the consistent process of debasement are akin to the characteristics of the villain that looks gorgeous at the outset but bit by bit loses his glamour. In Book IX, Satan comes back to the Garden of Heaven, the night after Raphael’s leaving and decides to transform into a snake with the purpose of luring Adam and Eve. His traits like the feeling of wretchedness, his capacity of metamorphosis, his feature of trickery and wiliness are projected here. In Book X, he vauntingly turns back to his supporters in Hell and meets Sin and Death on the periphery of Heaven. They compliment him for being successful in his undertaking. Death will influence the human beings with wicked means leading them to the path of death and Sin will deprave the thinking and accomplishments of human beings. Satan holds a conversation with his supporters in Pandemonium and makes them familiar with his strategy and expects to be applauded by them. Instead the hissing sound came to his ears and then the fallen angels along with Satan are transformed into serpents. In Book V, VI and briefly in VII, Satan’s revolt in heaven and his active aggression against Michael and fellow angels are described in a detailed manner by Raphael who narrates all past accounts to Adam.

Striking Features of Satan’s Character

  • Satan figures prominently in the action of the poem and he exhibits great will power. (He knew that his struggle was a hopeless one but still he had resolved steadfastly “never to submit or yield” 1.108)
  • Satan has many romantic aspects like love of liberty (He is a rebel against authority), paradoxical figure, possesses a sense of purpose, and has unyielding spirit and unbending will.
  • In the poem, Satan acts as a functional hero. He was the main apparatus which impelled Adam and Eve to lose Paradise through the exercise of free will and he carried out his plan to bring about the fall of man. He was a free agent who was working for the success of his venture. (This idea is similar to the mystical conception of Satan).
  • Satan may be looked upon as the unifying element in the poem. Satan was endowed with free will and God allowed him to exist and do whatever his nature directs. He enters into a conspiracy against God with the scheme related to man. For this reason, he is the dynamic centre of the epic as he is the inevitable part of the drama of humanity.
  • He is a courageous, strong, kind-hearted, prudent, temperate, and self-sacrificing. He has been granted some striking characteristics like leadership, audacity, fidelity, ingenuity and the power of rhetoric.


Negative Features of Satan’s Character

  • Jealousy of Satan.
  • Satan’s treachery in the form of rebellion against God.
  • His embittered anger manifests itself in a hard-hearted effort to decimate creatures that have not done any disservice to him.
  • Milton exposes all the bogus romantic ideas of heroism as overweening grandeur and the idea that the heroic energy in a bad cause deserves admiration.
  • Satan’s appearance manifests his spiritual degeneration. His transformation from an army commander to a seasoned politician, to a dirty toad and after that to a cursed snake.
  • Closeness between the nature of sin and the depiction of Satan or the repercussion of sin as an agent as Satan bit by bit become worse throughout the poem.
  • Milton treats the common Christian theme of power and love in a specific way. Satan stands for power and Christ symbolizes love.
  • Satan corresponds to the loss of hope.

The arrogance and envy is purely a Christian or Biblical themes that one day the Father pronounces to all the pecking orders of angels that He has given birth to a son, who is to rule at His right hand. While God’s announcement makes most of the angels happy, one of them is exasperated. That irate angel finds himself without his heavenly name, and is now called Satan. Satan’s envy and grudging are over the Son’s appointment as God’s second-in-command and this Son’s status leads him to revolt and subsequently to be damned. Satan labours under the delusion that he starts to compare his own free will with that of God. This delusion causes him great harm. He comments that the mind can form its own hell out of heaven, and its own heaven out of hell. Another reason of Satan’s jealousy is the new fine-looking race, which is created after he and his legions fall and God puts His trust in them that they will love and follow God.

Satan’s revolt is not against the unjustified rule of God. It is because of his jealousy, and animosity for not being the second highest in command after God. Thereupon, he puts one third of the other angels together in heaven to form a team. He builds his own throne in heaven and tells his followers that they should not allow themselves to be unjustly ruled over.  His speech in the Pandemonium that Heaven reasserts that all is not yet lost, and that the fallen angels might turn stronger in another battle if they work together, though privately he knows that God cannot be overpowered.

Satan’s ongoing process of deterioration is demonstrated in his use of increasingly contemptible and base disguises. In the first three books of Paradise Lost, the physical appearance of Satan’s takes various shapes. In Book I, he is a stupendous figure, so huge that even the largest tree would seem a tiny wand in his hand. In Book III, he dresses as a cherub, but his inward commotion finally blights this salutary-seeming appearance. Satan is later portrayed as bouncing over Eden’s fence like a wolf into a sheep’s pen. While he does not exactly disguise himself as a wolf, he keeps on being compared to and associated with feral, preying animals. He takes the form of a bird that is perched on the top of the Tree of Life, he then transforms into a toad to prompt incitement to wrongdoings into the ear of Eve. Satan’s appearance becomes steadily less attractive and undignified. Once an impressive figure, he contracts himself to become a lesser angel, then a mere bird, and finally a much less attractive animal, a toad, and lastly is transformed into a snake.

The theme of power and love is the common Christian theme. Satan represents such power that lacks love and goodness and the ultimate result of this power is destruction. All of his perverted acts were intended at corrupting or controlling the creation of God. He was bent on setting himself against Christ devoting himself to the seduction of man and he was strongly driven by vengeance and never-ending hatred. Satan set love aside in order to show his power; whereas the Son, the epitome of limitless power, set that power aside to foreground his love.

According to the Bible that the one sin that cannot be forgiven is to lose all hope of clemency and compassion of God; if one cannot even seek forgiveness, it cannot be permitted. The hopelessness of Satan is repeatedly shown throughout the poem. In the opening of Book IV, Satan arrives on the top of Mount Niphates which is situated to the north of Paradise, the Garden of Eden. A feeling of disbelief starts to have a strong grip over him about the assignment before him; catching sight of the charm and goodness of earth causes him to think of what he once was. For a moment, he even thinks whether he could be excused if he feels remorse for his past actions. But hell comes after him wherever he goes. Being aware of that redeeming or deliverance from sin and damnation cannot be permitted to him; he decides firmly to get on with perpetrating deeds of blasphemy and wickedness. To Satan, Hell is not simply a location, but rather a condition of mind caused by the absence of affinity with God. Satan’s identification with low spirits is consistent with what Milton sees as one of the abominable sins of all: loss of hope. Though this recently created attractive world cannot make Satan block out hell, he can never aspire to seek mercy and return to heaven.





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