Analysis of the Literary Themes


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An Analysis of the Literary Themes and Elements in Paradise Lost


Written in epic form, Paradise Lost is an epic poem written by John Milton. Originally, the book was published in 1667 as a compilation of 10 books and two years later, it was published as 12 books with books 10 and 7 being split into two parts. The author, John Milton, was a civil servant and renowned English poet at the time. The main themes center on the wrath of God, disobedience, and man’s ultimate redemption. The poem speaks to the time when God threw Satan out of heaven alongside a band of angels. It shows the stubbornness and pride of Lucifer who instead of repenting prefers to rule and stay in hell. Most scholars have deemed Paradise Lost as one of the greatest English poems of all time. Milton employs language supreme in attaining sound and rhythm to tell a biblical tale about the fall of humanity. The subject matter of the poem is primarily Christian. The main characters are Adam, Eve, God, and Lucifer. Worth noting so much has been written as regards the sympathetic and powerful characterization of God in the text. The purpose of this essay is to discuss the literary devices and themes used in Paradise Lost including allusions, use of sad tones, and allegory and symbolism. These literary devices are effective tools in ensuring that the poet is effective in delivering the meaning, intensifying the mood of feeling among readers, and generally piecing the poem together.


To begin with, the author uses numerous biblical allusions in the text. It is safe to say that the entire poem is a gigantic allusion to the story of creation that is written in the book of Genesis in the bible. The author borrows from the story of creation and this is where the characters of Adam and Eve come in. Paradise Lost contains both biblical and mythical allusions borrowed from the Bible and naming all of them would be an impossible task. However, just to name a few, in Stanza 1 line 4, the author writes “With loss of Eden, till one greater Man”. This alludes to Jesus Christ. The words “greater man” are used to refer to Jesus Christ. Further, in stanza 1, line 7, the author writes “Of Oreb, or Sinai, didst inspire” This is also an illusion of the story of Moses that is in the Bible. In the Bible, the Prophet Moses goes to Mt. Sinai to seek God and pray on the mountain. These allusions are effective in passing the main message to the reader because they tell a story by referring to an ancient source or place and in this case they point to the story of Moses and Jesus Christ in the bible. As a literary device in this poem, allusions have an impact on the readers as they enable readers to relate with ancient events in the bible that are already known to them (Chapman, 13). This helps in pushing the main message home to the readers.

Use of Tone as a Literary Device

Secondly, the author also employs the use of a sad, tragic, and serious tone to appeal to the audience and drive across the main message. In Stanza 1 line 3, Milton writes “Brought death into the world, and all our woe.” This points to the fact that Milton takes the poem seriously and for him, one of the most significant tragedies of humanity was the fall of Adam and Eve. Worth noting, for Milton, the issues of Satan’s betrayal, rebellion, and his plot for revenge are not laughing matters. As he drives the main themes of the poem, Milton is never funny and he puts little effort in making subtle jokes. This speaks to the serious tone that he maintains throughout the poem. Additionally, as readers, we can sense the tragedy in Milton’s verses. It goes without saying that the poem originally takes the structure of a tragedy. It is almost similar to a text that an author like Shakespeare would write. Along the line, Milton realizes that he needs to do something different. Although he tries very much to shift the structure of the poem from a tragedy to epic, he still dissects the subject matter from the point of view of a tragedy. At one point he cannot avoid interjecting and he makes statements such as ” oh, would that things had been different” and in book 9 he says that he will change the notes in book 8 of the poem to tragic”. It is so obvious that Milton is sad because readers can sense the sadness in his voice. Despite the garden of Eden being painted as a very beautiful place, Milton makes it clear that such a place does not exist anymore, and the only way for us to see it is through imagination and poetry which is utterly sad.

Symbolism, Allegory, and Imagery

The use of allegory, symbolism, and imagery as a literary device is evident across the entire poem. Milton uses typical allegory such as paradise and the fall of Adam and Eve to convey a hidden meaning to the readers (Peter and Vaavilal, 24) For starters, Milton makes reference to paradise so many times. The poem itself is title Paradise Lost and it basically talks about the loss of a paradise. This in itself is an allegory. It is not a surprise that the poem is full of images of paradise. The readers first encounter the image of the Garden of Eden at the beginning of the poem. In the first three lines, Milton talks about the fall of the Garden of Eden as the place where Man first disobeyed God. He writes, ” Of Mans first Disobedience, and the Fruit Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal taste” Additionally, in Book 4, The author makes it so clear that there is a garden of Eden exists and that it was the best paradise of all times. He even mentions a couple of other artistic paradises before comparing them to the Garden of Eden and concluding that the Garden of Eden is the most beautiful of them all. Additionally, Milton also talks about Heaven as a rather bright paradise that does not get dark. In this case, Heaven is a symbol of paradise.

Another allegory employed is “the fall”. The poem is about how Adam and Eve lost Paradise after they consume the Forbidden Fruit which they had been warned against. The act of eating the forbidden fruit has been referred to as the fall. In essence, it refers to the fall from grace, and fall from innocence. Images of falling are evident in the entire poem. The readers first encounter Satan alongside his legions as the first characters in the poem. They have fallen morally and as a result, God casts them away from Heaven. This is because they had disappointed God and by disobeying him and attempting to overthrow his kingdom. In Book 6, Satan and his legions, literally fall from Heaven and descend into Hell. Satan tells his legions ” Awake, Arise, or be forever fallen.” In this case, to be fallen is a symbol of sinning and disobeying God. Allegory, symbols, and illusions are effective in helping the readers to look at the poem with imagination and in driving the main point about disobedience home (Fletcher, 40). The author uses descriptive language to add depth and clarity to the minds of his readers.


In closing, Milton uses various literary devices in Paradise Lost to push the main agenda of disobedience and the fall of man and humanity by extension to his readers. These devices play a critical role in intensifying the mood of the readers, bringing clarity and depth to the meaning, and piecing the entire poem together. The use of allusion helps readers relate the main message to ancient and history stories that exist in the bible such as the story of Moses and Jesus Christ. Milton’s use of a sad, serious, and tragic tone is effective in informing the reader about what matters to the reader and how he feels about the topic he is writing about. Symbolism and allegory create depth using vivid and descriptive language. As such, the use of literally devices is significant in writing as it helps the readers stay alert and interested in the poem. This knowledge is useful to future poets and authors who are interested in perfecting their writing skills. Competent writers and authors try as much as possible to add oomph to their works to deliver text that not only appeals to them but also their audience. As such, writers should make a point of learning about all literary devices that can be employed in making a poem interesting. Some of the literary devices that they ought to research that have worth mentioning include repetition, rhyme, zeugma, enjambment, and end-stopped lines, metonymy, anaphora, and deceit.

Works Cited

Chapman, Alison A. The Legal Epic:” Paradise Lost” and the Early Modern Law. University of Chicago Press, 2017.

Fletcher, Angus. Allegory: the theory of a symbolic mode. Princeton University Press, 2021.

Peter, Sathyaveti, and Vaavilala Sri Ramamurthy. “The biblical allusions in john milton’s paradise lost _.” (2018).