A look at John Milton's work

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At a young age, John Milton was convinced that he was

destined for greatness. He thought that he 'might perhaps leave

something so written to aftertimes as they should not willingly

let it die'(Text 414). For this reason he thought that his life

was very important to himself and to others. He often wrote

directly about himself, and he used his life experiences as roots

for his literature. In Paradise Lost and in a sonnet entitled

'On His Blindness,' Milton speaks indirectly and directly of his

loss of vision. Also in Paradise Lost, he uses the political

situation of his time as a base for the plot, and he incorporates

elements of his own character into the character of Satan. In

'On Having Arrived at the Age of Twenty-Three', he speaks plainly

about the course of his life.

In the latter part of his life, Milton lost his vision.

This loss was very traumatic for him because he had not yet

completed his mission of writing a memorable work of literature.

Soon after, he continued his work with the help of his daughters.

He dictated to them a sonnet he called 'On His Blindness' in

which he asks how God expects him to do his work blind. Milton's

ambitious side says that his writing talent is 'lodged with [him]

useless'(Text 417). His religious side soon realizes that he is

'complaining' to God and he takes it back. He discovers that God

will not look down on him if he does not write a masterpiece. He

granted Milton a great talent, and he expects Milton to be happy.

He has to learn to do his work in a dark world. This poem was

not the last time Milton referred to his condition in his

writing. In book one of Paradise Lost, while invoking the Muse,

Milton says 'what in me is dark illumine'(Hndout 22). He asks to

be granted the power to work through his blindness. He obviously

thinks of his blindness as a major weakness. Later in the text,

he describes Hell as having 'no light, but rather darkness

visible'(Hndout 270). It is Milton's way of almost subliminally

implying that his condition is comparable to being damned to the

underworld. His blindness was something that he constantly had

to deal with and he managed to include it in most of his works.

At the prime of Milton's life, the political situation in

England was very unsteady. Charles I was overthrown, and the

Puritan dictator Oliver Cromwell installed himself as the 'Lord

Protector.' Being a Puritan himself, Milton supported this new

government, and he even held a job within it. But, England

became tired of the strict Puritan rule, and Cromwell's son was

defeated, and hastily replaced by Charles II. Everyone who

supported Cromwell and the civil war was sentenced to death.

Because of his standing in the community, Milton was allowed to

retire in peace. As punishment he lost everything he had

including his reputation. He would use the events of his life to

help him form the story for book one of Paradise Lost. In his

greatest work, Milton begins with a civil war in Heaven during

which Lucifer and Beelzebub are defeated and banished to Hell.

This event parallels the civil war within England with the

Puritans as Lucifer, and the rest of England as God. The

Puritans tried to take over England, but they were defeated after

a number of years. Most of the Puritan's were killed, Milton was

banished from society. Lucifer was banished to Hell, and he

would forever lose his reputation as an archangel. These

similarities lead scholars to believe that Satan is Milton.

Lucifer says that they should make a 'Heaven of Hell'(Hndout

280). This line shows that Satan had the will to work through

the bad times and make the best of it. Milton acted the same way

with his blindness. Milton seems to be a part of Satan's


In book nine of Paradise Lost, Milton tells the story of the

temptation of Eve. Satan's argument with Eve reflects beliefs of

Milton. In deciding whether to convince Adam or Eve to eat from

the tree of knowledge, he does not choose Adam because he has a

'higher intellectual' capacity. At the time Milton lived, women

were considered inferior to men. Milton obviously supported this

belief. By modern standards he would have been considered

sexist, by seventeenth century standards he was not.

Also in book nine, concerning the forbidden tree, Milton

emphasizes the great knowledge that can be gained from eating its

fruit. Throughout his life, he thought that continually learning

was very important. He spent part of his life living at home

reading. Satan tells Eve that God does not want them to become

as knowledgable as he is. If she eats the fruit, he tells her

that she will know 'both good and evil'(Text 293). Milton's

emphasis on the acquisition of knowledge implies that if he was

put into Eve's position, he would also betray God. Milton

formulated an argument that would have convinced himself.

In the earlier part of his life, Milton was often worried

that he would not do the work that he was destined to do. To

express this feeling, he wrote a sonnet called 'On Having Arrived

at the Age of Twenty-Three.' In it, he explains how he is

getting older and he still does not have any work done. He was

concerned because he did not have an idea for what to write.

This work reflects his character because he could not think of

anything else but his life-long goal. He was very focused. It

also shows how he was egotistical. In his time, he was not well

liked. Due to his Puritan background and his egocentric

personality, he was not respected by more than a select few.

Throughout his life, John Milton believed that he would be

remembered as great. He was so self-absorbed that he was a major

part of a lot of his work. Also, he used his life and character

to formulate Satan and Paradise Lost. He thought he would be

remembered and he was correct.