Paradise Lost: A Shift in Narrative Language After the Fall

Rendition of Satan's attack against God in Milton's Paradise Lost (1667)
Rendition of Satan’s attack against God in Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667)

Once Eve eats the apple from the tree of knowledge, the Fall is immediately evoked. Yet, the most apparent signifier of this change is the transformation of language between Adam and Eve. Postlapsarian language is erratic and dangerous and unnecessary in the prelapsarian world. The pre fallen world does not necessitate a differentiation between reality and language due to the certainty that prevails in the prelapsarian world, which lacks a need for providing tangibility to abstractions.

Pre-fall, Adam and Eve unabashedly engage in sexual relations; yet once the fall transpires, innocence is lost, and both become painfully aware of issues of embarrassment, shame, and wrath. The way in which Milton exemplifies this change in thinking is through the language of narration utilized in Paradise Lost. Eve no longer looks to Adam as her partner, but expresses sentiments of covetousness. Eve’s narrative becomes explicitly isolating by removing their once existent bond into a state of one versus the other (gender is a misunderstood concept at this point). Adam cites the differing physiological feature of Eve, as he no longer views her as a part of him, but as a flawed being.

A Postlapsarian World Marks the Inception of Language

The shift that occurs is signified through rhetorical engagements. The postlapsarian narratives utilized by Adam and Eve is less appealing than the seductive rhetoric implored by Satan. What transpires is the thunderous wrath of nature responding to the digressions of Adam and Eve who are forever altered from the once innocent creatures in the prelapsarian Eden.

Eve offering the forbidden fruit to Adam, from Paradise Lost, and evoking "The Fall of Man."
Eve offering the forbidden fruit to Adam, from Paradise Lost, and evoking “The Fall of Man.”

“In a prelapsarian world, the necessity of language is unnecessary and only exists in a postlapsarian world when questions of emotion, nature, and creation come into existence.”

The very nature of language subsists on a flawed foundation since language is not static, nor dependable. There are numerous fallacies associated with words and the manipulation that exists when language is placed in the hands of deceivers. This is first demonstrated when Satan inhabits the body of a serpent and enchants Eve. When she hears this lowly serpent speaking, he immediately entrances her. Satan’s ability to manipulate language to provoke Eve to taste the forbidden fruit provides the initial descent into a postlapsarian world. Though it is illogical for a serpent to possess the ability to speak, Eve no longer employs logic and transgresses the previous preleapsarian thought processes. “What may this mean? Language of Man pronounc’t/ By Tongue of Brute, and human sense exprest?” (553-554). Eve loses all sense of logic when she ignores her dream and allows herself to fall prey to the enchantment of the serpent, regardless of her questioning the possibility of a beast imploring the faculty of language. Due to her state of innocence, her questioning the intent of the serpent is lacking and she immediately falls prey to the serpent’s slithering command of language.

Definition of Prelapsarian, as exhibited from John Milton's Paradise Lost (1667)
Definition of Prelapsarian, as exhibited from John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667)

The pre-fallen state enjoyed by Adam and Eve subsisted of two individuals, or innocents, unaware of the future problems that would later plague them after Eve’s seduction. A pivotal moment in Paradise Lost is when Adam exhibits the gift of language and seamlessly begins providing animals with names.

Or live in Sea, or Aire, Beast, Fish and Fowle

In signe whereof each Bird and Beast behold

After thir kindes; I bring them to receave

From thee thir Names, and pay thee fealties…

I nam’d them, as they pass’d, and understood

Thir Nature with such knowledge God end’d. (341-44; 352-3).

William Blake's "Hallucinatory" depiction of the snake from Paradise Lost.
William Blake’s “Hallucinatory” depiction of the snake from Paradise Lost.

The Lapse Between Objects and Language Leads to a Chaotic State of Emotional Vulnerability

Once this occurs the lapse between objects and language is minimized and the abstract feel of Eden is replaced with the reality of the tangible post-fallen state. This tangibility also gives way to the possibility of death to occur, heightened emotions leading to vulnerability, sin to prevail, death to lurk, and chaos to roar. All of these elements were inconsequential until significance is assigned through the process of labels. Another significant factor is Adam’s realization of the other inhabitants of God’s creation, and his seeming understanding of the scala naturae that exists in this postlapsarian world. Hierarchies were not of interest in the pre-fallen world. Yet, Adam now understands the differentiation between self, God, and beast.

One of the first indicators of the fallen state is the enhanced manner in which Eve begins to use language. Language is an aspect of the fallen state. She begins to engage in postlapsarian thought, due to the failure of logic that once sufficed in the pre-fallen Eden. Logic is no longer sufficient as language fails her in attempts to try to make sense out of what has just transpired. Eve’s attempts at logic display a type of mediation that will not suffice due to their damnation having been destined once Eve fails to abide by God’s one restriction. Her mediations consist of attempts to consolidate her actions into a state of understanding; yet it is Eve’s numerous logical fallacies that occurred during her encounter with the serpent that led her to this state, or inability for redemption. What is necessary now is for Eve to seek knowledge, not logic, in understanding her current state to disallow a further descent from the fallen state she currently inhabits.

Though the language of faith is lacking—due to language being a postlapsarian concept—devotion is what Eve needs to embody in order to successfully continue to flourish. As language fails, nature begins to wither around her; the crown of flowers on her head wither and die. This is the first sign of death witnessed in the Garden of Eden. The trope of the crown of flowers is a powerful one, as Mary is the second Eve, in much the same manner Jesus is the second Adam. In numerous depictions of Mary, she is shown wearing a beautiful, ethereal crown of flowers. Previously, there has only been vitality present in Eden, now the earth is splitting in two and the gardens are unruly and lacking the unity once present in paradise.

After Eve's sin the Garden of Eden once known as Paradise begins to shift into a dark place.
After Eve’s sin the Garden of Eden once known as Paradise begins to shift into a dark place.

God as the Inflictor of Justice

God is deemed in the Old Testament as the almighty judge, and Eve’s discourse with Adam takes the stance of a defendant attempting to explain her case. She explains the seductive manner in which the serpent enthralled her and promised her a heightened level of superiority. Eve further elaborates on the novelty of the serpent possessing the power of speech. In doing so, Eve is attempting to convince Adam that it was not her fault—she is currently refusing blame for her decent into sin. Slowly, like the withering serpent, Eve unravels her tale. Just as the serpent intertwined Eve into his master plan, Eve attempts the same goal through rhetorical discourse with Adam. Eve further elaborates by stating she wanted Adam to be as powerful as her and that is why she shared the information with him. Eve further spins a web of deceit by stating if she had withheld the information; she would be preventing him from the state of superiority explained to her by the serpent. While Adam chooses to take from the Tree of Knowledge, and succumb to sin, he at first, responds as though he has no other choice. Completely disregarding the notion of free will that God had hoped Adam and Eve would engage in.

The Old Testament depicts God as the Wrathful Judge.
The Old Testament depicts God as the Wrathful Judge.

The tone of Adam and Eve’s words used enhances the ferocity of language as a tool in punishing one another. They are no longer enjoying the holy sanctimony once relished, but viewing one another as enemies. Adam’s blame intensifies, as his rhetoric becomes biting and visceral; Eve attempts to first make amends by trying to explain that her decision was to enhance their state of living. Eve’s tone displays jealousy, Adam’s tone displays accusation; he blames her and views her as a faulty specimen. As opposed to his previous state of worship of Eve Adam now views her as an inferior, evil being. This new, skeptical view of Eve is ironic due to Eve’s presented logic that she only entertained the serpent’s allure as a way to possess a superior state of vitality. Now, her once admirer despises her and she has been abolished—in Adam’s eyes— to a creature even lowlier than the slithering serpent.

Innocence Abolished

One of the most prominent themes prior to the fall is the state of innocence possessed by both Adam and Eve. When Satan witnesses the two creatures in Eden, he narrates their seeming virtue as ignorance.

“Envie them that? Can it be sin to know, / Can it be death? And do they onely stand/ By ignorance, is that thir happie state,” (4. 517-19).

Once they engage in rhetoric, they are no longer in a pre-lapsarian world. Language is a construct of the postlapsarian, fallen world. Their innocence has been lost once Eve eats from the forbidden tree, and is exacerbated once they engage in linguistic discourse. This ability to bring them to a state of blaming one another proves to Satan that they were not innocent, just plainly gullible and easy to manipulate.

After The Fall, Eve engages in language, a postlapsarian concept, to evoke Adam's forgiveness for her sin.
After The Fall, Eve engages in language, a postlapsarian concept, to evoke Adam’s forgiveness for her sin.

Language becomes a weapon, their only means of shaming one another and themselves. Adam continuously slashes Eve with his tongue and places her into a state of embarrassment. This is a newfound emotion. As he continues to make her feel inferior, she is also painfully aware of their biological differences. Adam contributes to this feeling of inadequacy by reminding Eve that he is the one who was created by God, and she is a mere formation from his “curved” left rib. The relevance of her being taken from the left side is significant due to the ontology of the word “left” implying “sinister,” as well as the narrative of the day of the final judgment, in which all those who have wronged God will enter from the left—and fall into the pits of hell.

Together They Shall Fall

After Adam decides that he cannot let Eve be the sole fallen individual, he too eats the fruit, which is followed by an unrelenting rant about how unfair this situation is. Adam utilizes language in a cowardly manner, concerned with his inability to choose right from wrong. As opposed to hoping for redemption or relying on faith, he continues to ramble about how difficult his life is and his inability to have taken a different course. Not once does he ask God for strength, but instead relies on a state of pity for himself. When he moves from pity to anger, he then engages in a discourse of blame against Eve for having caused this state to have befallen him. One of the most abundant failures of language occurs when Adam blames God for having created them and allowing the Tree of Knowledge to have existed.

“Did I request thee, Maker, from my Clay/ To mould me Man, did I sollcite thee/ From darkness to promote me here place/ In this delicious Garden? (743-746).

So, now Adam has progressed from blaming Eve, to blaming God. He continues to rant about how difficult this is and what is he left to do now that he is left alone with Eve, a woman, and the “fair defect.” Once again, the notion of free will never enters the mindset of Adam as he continues to act as though every action taken by him was never of his choosing. Adam continues to belittle Eve in the harshest of manners” Out of my sigh, though Serpent, hat name best/ Befits thee with him leagu’d, thy self as false” (867-868). Adam is finally brought out of his state of misery, and experiences empathy, once he realizes just how fallen Eve has come. This shift exhibits a very slight act of redemption on the part of Adam.

Eve's state of distress after eating the apple and Adam's leaving her due to his repulsion for her indulgence in sin.
Eve’s state of distress after eating the apple and Adam’s leaving her due to his repulsion for her indulgence in sin.

The Prophecy of Cain and Abel

When Adam rejoins Eve, he finds her in a state of desperation and possessing suicidal ideologies. She implores Adam to assist her in remaining barren, as well as seeking out death if death does not find them. She refuses to procreate after the prophecy of Cain and Abel has been related to them. In an oddly paradoxical manner, Eve becomes a type of heroic figure in attempting to save mankind from damnation. Though her actions are sacrilegious, her knowledge of what is forthcoming leads her to want to change the course of humanity. These desperate words spoken by Eve awaken Adam from his stupor and he finally evolves from coward to redeemer. He cannot change the course of actions that have transpired, but he can change the thought patterns currently exhibited by Eve. Much like a romantic plot when the woman has become so desperate and the situation is bleak, the hero comes to the rescue, saying just the right thing, and providing the hope that eluded the heroine up till this pivotal moment. Unfortunately, this is not a romance novel, and the previous actions taken by Adam and Eve cannot be undone and will forever change the course of humanity.

Postlapsarian Equals Temporality

Temporality ensues once the shift into a Prelapsarian state occurs.
Temporality ensues once the shift into a Prelapsarian state occurs.

Now that Adam and Eve have engaged in sin, their language shifts, and a new awareness of time has convened. This is apparent in the forewarnings of the Cain and Abel, and the necessity of Jesus to free the world from original sin. Adam and Eve subsisted in a garden where time was an unknown concept. Now, temporality has become a huge factor as Eve attempts to prevent future events from happening by acting to erase wrongdoings in the present.

When attempting to understand the power of language utilized in Paradise Lost, as well as the distinct use of polyphonic narrative, it is essential for the reader to engage in reader response criticism to understand the role of the reader. Satan’s mastery of rhetoric, and ability to draw the reader into Eden, eerily creates a type of sympathetic co-conspirator, making the reader grapple with the possibility of Satan seducing the reader. Milton’s gift for multiple narratives and powerful rhetorical engagements intertwine the reader into the narrative. There is this prominent shift in a reader’s response to Satan. Just as the words are malleable, so, too, is the readers’ response to the actions of Satan. Yet, a reader recognizes that this type of confusion does not occur when reading the Bible since Satan is never provided the chance to defend himself from a rhetorical standpoint. Another powerful element is the continuity of the narration present in each book in the bible. This continuity is not present in Paradise Lost and causes moments of introspection on the part of the reader who will fall into a similar trap that Eve found herself in when becoming seduced by Satan’s wit. Though Eve attempts to take on Satan’s language, her command of linguistics is less compelling and highlights her fallibility. A reader is able to observe her jealousy, selfishness, and trickery, immediately; whereas Satan’s motives are less obvious due to his mastery of tricking the reader into believing his motives are not of a chaotic framework.

Satan: The Master Rhetorician

On the topic of Satan’s command and dexterous use of language, a common word uttered by Satan is the word “Author.” The word is utilized sixteen times throughout Paradise Lost, the majority of times it is uttered in reference to God. Other times, the Son also refers to God as the “Author,” and Eve is once mentioned as the “Author.” Aside from the common usage of the word author—to connote a writer— according to the Oxford English Dictionary, Author is defined as: “A creator, cause, or source” (“author,” OED). This particular definition of author originated in the Wycliffe Bible in 1382. The OED also lists another definition of Author as, “The creator of nature, universe, etc.” (Author, C.). The malleability of the word is quite interesting, especially due to Milton’s usage of multiple narrators as well as assuming the omniscient role of the creator of a work of verse that predates any other written work. This leads one to wonder whether or not “Author” is Milton’s ironic attempt to place himself into the narrative, or if he is referring to God, or, a possible acknowledgment to Eve as the “author” of a transformed Eden.

Satan contemplating the destruction of God's creation of Paradise.
Satan contemplating the destruction of God’s creation of Paradise.

When attempting to understand the power of language utilized in Paradise Lost, as well as the distinct use of polyphonic narrative, it is essential for the reader to engage in reader response criticism to understand the role of the reader. Satan’s mastery of rhetoric, and ability to draw the reader into Eden, eerily creates a type of sympathetic co-conspirator, making the reader grapple with the possibility of Satan seducing the reader. Milton’s gift for multiple narratives and powerful rhetorical engagements intertwine the reader into the narrative. There is this prominent shift in a reader’s response to Satan. Just as the words are malleable, so, too, is the readers’ response to the actions of Satan. Yet, a reader recognizes that this type of confusion does not occur when reading the Bible since Satan is never provided the chance to defend himself from a rhetorical standpoint. Another powerful element is the continuity of the narration present in each book in the bible. This continuity is not present in Paradise Lost and causes moments of introspection on the part of the reader who will fall into a similar trap that Eve found herself in when becoming seduced by Satan’s wit. Though Eve attempts to take on Satan’s language, her command of linguistics is less compelling and highlights her fallibility. A reader is able to observe her jealousy, selfishness, and trickery, immediately; whereas Satan’s motives are less obvious due to his mastery of tricking the reader into believing his motives are not of a chaotic framework.

Paradise Lost is a complex work on multiple levels. Much attention is given to the theological conceptions; whereas others view Milton’s heroic handling of Satan as antithetical to theological teachings. One of the prominent features of the work is the manner in which language reflects the immense changes taking place in the surroundings described in the book. These descriptions take part through multiple lenses and the question of reliability is constantly called into attention. A significant example is when the only narrator of the Garden of Eden is Satan, a postlapsarian creature describing an environment that resides in a prelapsarian world. How can his perceptions be accurate and sufficient in transferring abstract concepts into tangible elements through the mechanics of language? Inquiry, such as this, is one minor example of the complexities that exists within Milton’s work. As the lines of verse continue, the linearity loses shape and the Fall is prominently reflected in the breach of stable language. This technique leads to a further understanding of the complexity of chaos inhabiting this new world. The implicit manner in which chaos is related through the fallen state of linguistics exemplifies the immense dichotomy of language and the reminder that language is an unstable component of the postlapsarian world.

Adam and Eve being led out of the Garden, which was once paradise, after inflicting original sin against all mankind.
Adam and Eve being led out of the Garden, which was once paradise, after inflicting original sin against all mankind.

Works Cited

“Author, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, June 2015. http://www.oed.com.

Milton, John. Paradise Lost. Ed. Gordon Teskey. New York: Norton, 2005.

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I am an avid reader of all genres of literature. My favorite authors include: Woolf, Steinbeck, Langland, Donne, Faulkner, and Eliot. My goal is to become a fluent writer.
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39 Comments

  1. Malcom
    0

    This is, perhaps, one of the best epic poems ever written by a human.

  2. Annabelle Seal
    0

    I really wish I would have read this article while I was still in grad school.

  3. Durbin
    0

    I did not like Milton’s version of creation, maybe because of the fact that I am so familiar to the Genesis version, although I must admit it entertained me, I was continuously comparing it to the Bible in my head.

  4. Munjeera

    Excellent work as always Danielle. Your style and analysis is superb.

  5. ELLIOT
    0

    Alongside Dante’s Inferno, this is indisputably one of Christianity’s best pieces of literature.

  6. Terrie
    0

    His verse is beautifully composed, both in structure and in language.

  7. Bravo
    0

    The part that upset me was the way Milton represented eve as weak and emotional, like the stereotype that women are familiar with today.

  8. Luke
    0

    This work is inevitably political.

  9. Monika
    0

    I love this poem. I wouldn’t look to it as a source of theology, but it is a beautifully told, thought-provoking retelling of the fall of mankind and the promise of redemption.

  10. Leota Fair
    0

    I like that this brought a different perspective to the book of Genesis.

  11. Josiah
    0

    I read Paradise Lost not long ago. The use of symbolism to represent Satan and his minions, like animals and geography, give the work a very “mystic” feeling, beyond what i would imagine would be pure church orthodoxy.

  12. Link
    0

    So much of this poem doesn’t sit right with me. I know it’s my modern sensibilities. I know this book was written in “a different time.” But you know what? I like the values of my time better than Milton’s values.

    His depiction of Eve is so backwards that he manages to create one character who encapsulates both ends of the Madonna-whore complex.

    I with I hadn’t spent half this poem awed by Milton and the other half wishing I could time travel back to 1667 so I could flip the grim bastard off.

  13. Garlander
    0

    You could see Milton’s marital problems in here…

  14. Beebe
    0

    I loved the part in which Adam and Eve find each; I loved the part in which they can only discover each other.

  15. Ettie
    0

    It is easy to see why Milton is considered the second best poet of the English language.

  16. till
    0

    Unfortunately, I now have a problem where this kind of poetry incurs my spasmodic condition.

  17. Vanna
    0

    I remember reading this in college and enjoying it. Upon attempting to re-read it, I question what I was thinking.

  18. Twyla
    1

    The perfect choice of words and the cheer vivid imagery. Thanks for writing about one of my all time fav work.

  19. loki
    0

    Lovely article. One thing I can say is this version of the story of Adam and Eve solidified the idea of the devil coming in many forms. This lead me to believe that this is what Milton was experiencing in his own world.

  20. haggchoi
    0

    I am currently taking a seminar on this poem and this article is very useful.

  21. Kiersten
    0

    Beautiful and intriguing literature.

  22. MrDuff
    0

    I don’t think I would have enjoyed this book had I not read it in a classroom setting with an amazing professor.

  23. ossie
    0

    I can go back to this poem again and again, and always make a fascinating new discovery.

  24. Alexandra
    0

    Ackkk… remember reading this back then. I tried not to be too disgusted and annoyed with the attitude towards women, which is both a religious viewpoint and the way things were when this was written.

  25. Chu
    0

    Milton was truly a master of the English language.

  26. Sona
    0

    Whether you like it or not, what happened to Adam and Eve so clearly explains the way the world is.

  27. Jordon
    0

    I get a lot of enjoyment of just thinking how edgy Milton must have been to basically make Satan the protagonist of a story at this time.

  28. Griffis
    0

    Paradise Lost is an interesting read. On one hand, I did not enjoy this reading because it came across as if it is a fictitious story to me. Yes, it did contain some of the same story line of the Hebrew version of Adam and Eve but some of the things that Milton added to the story just did not seem realistic.

    He chose to make Eve seem as though she was weak because of the flattery Satan spewed from his lips.

  29. Halin
    0

    This is one of those works every English enthusiast should take the time and effort to read and enjoy.

  30. Riva
    0

    This blend´s the line of magic and religion and I love that.

  31. Etha Pauley
    0

    Milton made sure to push his own agenda when he was writing this story and that was to justify the ways of God to mankind.

  32. Pak
    0

    It is a work of genius.

  33. Fraser
    0

    The style of writing Milton used gave the sense to me as if he was in the garden, as if he was a fly on the wall during this spiritual conflict.

  34. EVE
    0

    I have sympathy for all of those in Hell, rather than those in Heaven.

  35. Charlyn
    0

    I loved that satan wasn’t the bad guy and the way that he was portrayed throughout the book.

  36. Sydnee Larson

    What an eye-opening article!

  37. Brandon T. Gass

    Interesting examination of classic epic poetry.

  38. A well written and interesting article. Given how much this text has been studied I found your article extremely informative and has given me a new way to look at the text.

  39. We just did a Milton Marathon at my university (ETSU), and we had a pretty fine turn-out this year. The poem started at 9 and ended around 6, with students and professors coming in and out during the day to read and keep the poem moving. I think people recognize the poem as excellent and interesting because it explores a story that is so familiar to us and one that is now often quite simplified. People enjoy inhabiting Eden, exploring the idea of true human innocence, and the concept of inheriting a perfect Earth. Many people have told me that they enjoy the scenes where Adam names the animals and where he and Eve discover each other. People really relate to that, and I think that means Milton has done his job. You can examine Milton two ways to Sunday for academic work, or you can just simply bask in it for what it is; a poem meant to provoke your mind and heart.

    Also, those battle scenes, man. The legions of Hell arming cannons that fire mountains at the heavenly host? They only gain the upperhand for a split second, and then are completely cut asunder by the holy blades. That seems such a bombastic, zany idea ahead of it’s time, and its such a heavy metal moment. the definition of Epic Poetry.

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