Satan’s predicament after he falls in Paradise Lost is utterly hopeless, yet he chooses to persevere. He reasons that he should continue to struggle, even though he is aware that it is entirely in vain. The process he follows to arrive at this choice is similar to the process Albert Camus will use to justify the unrelenting toil of his ‘absurd man.’ Before this becomes apparent, portions of Satan as a character must be eliminated from consideration, because they present an intractable set of problems. Prior to his rebellion, Satan is a divine being, who “stood’st in Heav’n, upright and pure,” (IV, 936-37) like God and the other angels. We do not get a clear portrayal of this character, only Satan’s and Raphael’s memories and reconstructions of what he must have been like, and God’s statement that He “made him just and right, sufficient to have stood” (III, 98-9). Like other angels, he has an “intuitive” (V, 488) way of knowing that Milton defines as far from human apprehension, particularly in our fallen state. We can on Earth only see “but the shadow of Heav’n” (575), which in this case is useful, because we are off the hook to even try to explain why Satan chooses to rebel in the first place. Milton too, by placing the godlike mind off limits to human reason as it is commonly understood, is off the hook as well to entirely “justify the ways of God to men” (I, 26). Instead we are presented with the paradoxical claim that God made his creatures “free to fall” (III, 99) “without least impulse or shadow of Fate” (120), and so somehow put bounds on his own omnipotence so that his omniscient “foreknowledge had no influence on their fault” (119). To try to enclose this tortuously defined causality within the mind of a mere huma…
…others is not. Milton’s impulse to produce so much of his most beautiful poetry while speaking in the persona of Satan suggests something to the contrary: the need to share one’s appreciation for life and the precious beauty of the world that is born of a completely demolished and irreparable condition. Many people, not just the heroic and kind Camus, or the blind and defeated poet Milton, have been inspired towards good from the depths of despair. Like much else that is thrust upon him, Satan is instead forced into what seems an unnatural role to serve the purposes of his Author. In any case, he toils on, unceasing.Works Cited
Camus, A. The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays. New York, NY: Vintage. (1991).
Milton, John. “Paradise Lost.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. 8. Logan, Greenblatt, Lewalski, Maus. New York, 2006. 1831-2055. Print.