A Sample 'A' Paper

from English 230: Great Narrative Works



Things to note:

1) The paper has a clearly articulated thesis in the introduction, one that is developed in different ways in each of the paragraphs of the paper.

2) The paper proceeds logically from sentence to sentence and from point to point (although the student might have done a yet better job in providing a transition from the section on invocation to the section on machinery; ideally, the essay would have tied together these two parts of the argument, especially since they are, in fact, intimately related).

3) Rather than making numerous points briefly, the student has chosen to concentrate on a specific topic so that s/he can provide an in-depth and extensive interpretation of the text at hand.

4) The student has used a good deal of textual evidence from Paradise Lost to support his/her case.

5) The student never rests at paraprase but always seeks to interpret the descriptions s/he provides.

6) The paper has almost no grammatical and stylistic problems.


The Justification [Note: I have included my marginal comments in red]

From the beginning of his Paradise Lost, John Milton establishes a divine motivation behind his work. Unlike earlier epics, his was not created solely for entertainment or societal value. These previous epic narratives were culturally valuable not only for their storytelling appeal, but also for their embedded instructions which were then contained [word choice: anything better?] for future generations. Certainly, Paradise Lost accomplishes these aims as well. Yet Milton, instead of just telling a story, created his epic with one grandiose purpose in mind: to "justify the ways of God to men" (Paradise Lost 1.26). He, therefore, adapted the established epic conventions to better achieve [Note: split infinitive] his majestic goal. Nearly every epic convention is revised in Paradise Lost, but the modifications of the invocation to the Muse and the epic machinery best illustrate Milton's changes to epic tradition. [Strong introduction, though you might also establish your argument about how precisely these two conventions are transformed.]

The invocation to the Muse in Paradise Lost has been reworked by Milton to provide a transition from the mythical world of past epics to the Christian setting of his epic. Although Milton is referring to the Holy Spirit, his first invocation is to the "Heav'nly Muse" (Paradise Lost 1.6). This allusion to the polytheistic world of pagan Muses links his post-Christian epic to the ancient epics. By calling upon the Holy Spirit instead of the traditional Muse, Milton is illustrating another [question: what "other" transition have you established?] transition between these two cultures--the shift from a shame culture to a guilt culture. The Muses from the earlier epics were remote figures observing the actions of those on Earth. But, as Milton states in Book I of Paradise Lost, the Holy Spirit is internalized, a Muse "that dost prefer/ Before all tenples th' upright heart and pure" (17-18). The pagan Muses so valued in the shame culture have been replaced in a guilt culture by the Muse within. This inner guide is again mentioned in Book III when Milton calls upon the Holy Spirit to

Shine inward, and the mind through all her powers
Irradiate, there plant eyes, all mist from thence
Purge and disperse, that I may see and tell
Of things invisible to mortal sight. (Paradise Lost 3.51-55)

By internalizing the Muse, Milton is able to underscore the transition from an earlier culture to his current one. Also, by citing divine inspiration from a member of the Trinity, Milton is supporting his case of "justifying the ways of God to men." As the author himself recognizes, he may now "assert Eternal Providence" (Paradise Lost 1.25).

Milton especially manipulates his use of epic machinery to achieve his divine goal. Often in epics, the gods would intervene in the lives of humans. However, in Paradise Lost, the lack of divine intervention sets it apart from previous epics. While divine counsel is offered in both Paradise Lost and Homer's Odyssey, the extent of involvement is greater in The Odyssey. Athena forewarned both Odysseus and Telemachus of future dangers in great detail, always including specific information about traps and possible solutions. In Book XIII of The Odyssey, she offered to help Odysseus "devise the wisest course to take" (362). She would also strengthen Odysseus physically and mentally when he was in need. The divine counsel of Paradise Lost was much less indulging. Raphael does come to warn Adam of the impending temptation, but he gives no sure details of time and place, or of what to beware. The angel only warns: "take heed lest passion sway/ Thy judgment to do aught" (9.635). Divine intervention is omitted not only in the area of counsel, but also in the use of force. In earlier epics like The Odyssey, the gods exploit all of their force to stop a foe. This can be seen with Poseidon's persecution of Odysseus. The god of the Sea physically prohibits Odysseus from returning home and destroys his entire crew of men. However, in Paradise Lost, God does not crush his enemy forces, but simply banishes them to Hell. He even allows Satan to escape Hell. He [unclear antecedent] snuck out with "Sin and Death amain/ Following his track, such was the will of Heav'n" (Milton, Paradise Lost 2.1024-25).

Milton seems to have purposefully established a lack of divine intervention. Its absence leads the reader to precisely the justification Milton is seeking. By omitting the constant acts of celestial intervention seen in earlier epics, Milton illustrates the one act of supreme intervention of Paradise Lost&emdash;the creation of free will. God, in his one act of intervention, bestowed upon Man a gift that would prohibit any later acts of intervention. As Raphael states, God has created Adam "perfect within, no outward aid require" (Milton, Paradise Lost 9.642). Having been blessed with the ability to reason and use free will, Man is in charge of his own intervention.

Milton was able to remold the traditional epic conventions and use them to illustrate his grand purpose of "justifying the ways of God to men." He was treating all previous epics and history as leading up to the Christian story that he was presenting. In reworking the epic conventions as he did, he was reflecting the changes and transitions that had occurred in his own society. The invoked Muse is the Holy Spirit, illustrating the internalization of the Christian faith. [Explain a little.] The omission of substantial divine intervention directs the reader to recognizing the one true intervention&emdash;the gift of free will. And with this realization, Milton satisfies [word choice] his goal.