Who is The hero of Milton’s Paradise Lost, it is a confusing question for reader because there are two main characters, ‘Adam Or Satan‘. As we discuss the word ‘hero’ in its true meanings and contents. We first of all come to know that this word has some specific limitations and traits on the basis of which any figure or character is termed as hero. Oftenly these qualities are as a man of towering personality dominating on the whole of the action; a man of high rank whether a general or king, prince or highly respected person among the people. He is highly honourable, respected and noble person who is respected by everyone.
As far as the matter of Paradise Lost is concerned in which this question rises again and again that who is the hero of ‘Paradise Lost’ and this very question has been a matter of great controversy. It was Dryden who first of all expressed the opinion that “the Devil is the hero of Milton’s poem”. This very statement affected other poets and critics very much and they also started considering Satan as a hero of Paradise Lost. These were Blake, Shelly, Hazlitt and many other critics and poets who agreed to this idea. On the other side there were other many critics of modern age, such as C.S. Lewis and Milton Gardner who thought that Satan’s character showed a gradual and continual decline.
“From hero to general, from general to politician, from politician to secret service agent and to a thing that enters into the bedroom or bathroom windows and thence to a toad and finally a snake”.
From this above mentioned statement, the later critics and poets do not consider Satan as the hero of Paradise Lost.Let us, first of all we throw light on those critics and poets who consider Satan as a heroic figure. They are of the view that he is the only character who is presented through conflict and endurance. They uplift his status equal to the great heroes of worldly acknowledged and lamed dramatist – Shakespeare. Satan is thus as tragic hero as Macbeth or Hamlet or King Lear is. The very first quality of Satan that attracts these critics is his unyielding courage and spirit. They further argue that in spite of his defeat, he is determined to continue war against God. One of the greatest and best traits or qualities of Satanic heroism is that he has immortal hate for his enemy. The very solid plea which they give here and on the basis of which this hatred takes its origin is the sense of ‘injured merit’ which means that God has ignored Satan’s merit and impelled him to raise a rebellion.
The very third quality, which is referred by them is Satan’s strong determination because he ignores the great torments of Hell and keeps up his nerves and does not give up his determination to tight, on the basis of these above mentioned qualities, the supporters of Satan as a hero, attribute moral qualities to him and they are convinced by his leadership. And convince that the hero of Milton’s Paradise Lost is Satan.
They are too much sympathetic towards him that they even start shedding tears over the sufferings of him because they think that Satan himself is too much sympathetic over the sufferings of his companions that his eyes shed tears. Being the leader of the fallen angels, Devil himself searches for the new creation of Adam and Eve singlehandedly through Abyss while the fallen angels sit silent over the dangers. So the supporters of Satan as a hero term his this heroic adventure of searching the new creation of Adam and Eve as an adventure of a great hero of human race.
John Milton has other kinds of views and on the contrary, he has shown some bad and so called qualities in the character of Satan which have debased his title of hero and established him, a confirmed villain. Milton himself is of the views that he is proud and as such he is a victim of cardinal sin according to Christianity. Milton speaks on the basis of the preachings and teachings of Christianity in which pride is the main cause of Satan’s fall. In most of the dramas and novels in English Literature, it is often observed that the sinful heroes often repent and ask for God’s grace but we see in Milton’s Paradise Lost that Satan does not repent so he does not win our sympathies and loses the dimensions of a tragic and heroic figure.
Above all, there is another very bad quality which leads his character to a worthless and mean hero and it is this that he feels or takes delight in evil. The critics and poets who disregard or reject Satan as a hero, are of the views, that his only aim is either to grieve or to disturb God by frustrating His plan. This is something that is not admirable in his character. Moreover the responsibility for the fall of one third of angels from Heaven relies on Satan’s action. Though in the first two books, Satan is presented as a heroic figure and the impression gathered, was wrongly gathered because it started fading away when the degradation of his character was studied in the light of the total poem.
It is stated in clear cut manner by Milton when his change from Arch-angel to a snake is described by him. Though the total poem gives the impression of his being villain yet it can also be gathered from the reading of the first two books. The use of Homeric similes which Milton uses especially for him which at surface appear to be digressions, actually Milton indirectly comments on the deceitful nature and ugly picture of Satan. This is very apparent from the comparison of Satan with Leviathan or Autumn leaves. In simple words, it can be said that if Satan is as huge as Leviathan, he is as tricky and destructive as the sea monster.
It is very openly and rightly said by some critics that the great rebel is not a grand hero but a wicked villain. And at the same time, they are of the view that not Satan but the hero of Milton’s Paradise Lost is Adam who is the central figure of Paradise Lost. Because it is the character of Adam which gives unity to the entire action of the poem; and his fate, his experience are the chief subject matters of this poem. Trusty speaking, it can be said vehemently that in the character of Adam, Milton has presented a new concept of heroism, based on Christian virtue of patience, love, generosity and humility. These are such moral values of great importance which are the direct negation of the pagan concept of heroism based on pride, revenge, hatred, war mongering, deception and self-love, depicted in the epics of Homer and Virgil.
Though there are some superficial values of weakness, meakness and simplicity in Adam but all these are in reality a strength of his personality. So we can say that Milton has presented a figure who appears imaginatively and poetically and who has a natural magnificence worthy of this great epic.Having all the above mentioned characteristics and merits and demerits of the analysis of heroic figures, we come towards the conclusion that though Satan is the most dominant personality in Paradise Lost and his character has been a subject of sharp controversy among the various critics yet many romantic poets like Blake, Shelley and Hazlitt think of him as the hero of PI.
But when we see the modern critics of new age such as John Peter, Nicolsun, David Batches, etc. then we come to know that in the whole poem, the degradation of Satanic figure has been presented. So, we can say in the concluding remarks that “to be or not to be the question” as the hero of Milton’s Paradise Lost but it is very evident from his participation of his character that Milton has depicted or portrayed his character in a very powerful and undeniable reality of the strength of his character in Paradise Lost.