Date of Award

Spring 1997

Document Type

Dissertation - Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Stephens, James

Second Advisor

McCabe, John

Third Advisor

Jeffers, Thomas


John Milton attempted to depict in his epic, Paradise Lost, the story of Adam and Eve. He chose this topic because he understood the mythic significance for human beings of the need for a paradise which they know, and in which they participate, and always, in one way or another, relinquish. This circumstance of existence represents Adam and Eve's predicament which Milton was attempting to portray because it mirrors the profound moral rhythm of life, beginning in idyllic innocence, evolving into moral conflict and temptation, and, ideally, being resolved in mature insight and righteousness. Milton lived in a time of great social, political and moral change: 1608-1674. He participated in, joined forces with, weathered and withdrew from the circumstances of the Puritan Revolution. The establishment of the Commonwealth of Cromwell, and later its failure, with the Restoration of Charles II, is part of his intellectual and emotional development. Disillusionment with public activity led him consequently to a serious focus on his personal situation. He attempted to evaluate his circumstances according to the beliefs he held which had been altered by experience. All variables are meaningful only insofar as they survive the crucible of his poetic honesty and devotion to his faith in God. More specifically, as he matured, the nature of his artistic mission became more subtle and individual, less wildly rebellious, more intellectually and spiritually radical. Throughout his lifetime his activities had involved his own personal struggles with his innate gifts and talents, and the implications of these. His initial academic pursuits, his subsequent individual life circumstances, involving his perception of himself as aspiring poet and revolutionary intellectual, led him to a personal knowledge and belief in the need for an appropriate use of the intellect and emotions. Milton presents the belief in his epic poem, Paradise Lost, that there exist two traits which humans require in order to achieve self-knowledge, or a regained "paradise within." These attributes are discipline and charity. Many critics have presented these two characteristics as central to Milton's writing, but they have not demonstrated, as I wish to, that their conjunction, if appropriately mastered and enacted, affords the individual possession of the paramount endowment of existence: Christian virtue. The health and strength of the intellect and emotions make this successful unity possible. Milton utilizes the human myth of the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden as the means to explain how their improperly moderated discipline and charity are the cause of their fall from grace. In the pre-lapsarian state they are morally similar to children and thus they are susceptible to temptation. The feelings of shame and despair they experience following their fall are part of the natural cycle of movement from ignorance to adult consciousness. The resonance of the Edenic myth consists in the depiction of Adam and Eve as prototypes of male and female beings whose success at the close of Paradise Lost represents the hope for redemption which all humanity shares. As a premier poet, Milton coaxes an attentive reader to discern the manner in which stereotypical patterns of male/female interaction prevent the creation of an emotionally indissoluble bond between two human beings. The portrayal of Adam and Eve touches most seriously on the spiritual saga they undergo, and from which they emerge. Milton believed in the supreme necessity and beauty of the bond between man and woman, which is the basis of personal and social stability and happiness.



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