You are killing me with the 400 word count, Ms. Howard. I feel so clipped. I ended at 449 words. I hope this transgression may be forgiven.
Years of repeated religious doctrine have forged a very strict image of Satan, one which is difficult to dislodge from the mind. Throughout my childhood, the fallen angel was labeled as a beast, the very guide by which not to act. Satan has been forever molded as the source of humanity’s downfall, the serpent that tempted Eve with the forbidden fruit. Wickedness and evil are his playthings. Yet Milton, according to modern literary circles, accidentally created Lucifer as a tragic and sympathetic character within Paradise Lost, a being whose values and personality are aligned to the societal standards of the twenty-first century.
In many ways, Milton’s Satan may be interpreted as a modern-day anti-hero. His plight is one of individualism, free-will, and a desire to seize something greater than one’s self. Satan raises an army of loyal angels, who oppose the reign of God, in rebellion against the established Kingdom of Heaven. The very situation is one that sends off an alarm for individuals with Christian upbringings. To believe that Satan, of all beings, could garner any amount of sympathy or lamentation is ridiculous and sacrilegious. Within a moral society, God is good and Lucifer is bad. However, for true literary students and enthusiasts, suspending the rigid binary opposition of Heaven and Hell and Good and Evil presents a rather intriguing and challenging study of Milton and his Satan.
Several of Satan’s speeches within Paradise Lost carry a hefty weight. Milton wrote him in such a way that his actions and their consequences ensnare and captivate the reader rather than immediately repulse. Satan laments his exile from Heaven’s “happy fields/Where joy forever dwells”, yet he does not surrender himself to his situation. Instead, the fallen angel proclaims aloud that “The mind is its own place, and in itself/Can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” Satan tries overthrowing a ruler who he truly believed to be falsely placed (and when have humans never strained under the yoke of an administrator, boss, or leader?), yet he himself is displaced and punished for his attempts. Downcast yet not downtrodden, Satan affirms his legions that in Hell “We shall be free”.
Such a character as Milton’s Satan has become fairly familiar in modern literature. The anti-hero, or the tragic figure who is misunderstood for doing what he believes in, are regularly dealt with. In addition, Milton’s Satan coincides strongly with a modern emphasis on individuals, freedom, and defense of ideals. Certainly, at the end of the day Satan is still the Satan of evil acts and corruption. But in Milton’s writing one can find halting verses and haunting passages that question an individual’s sense of right, wrong, and just action.