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.

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, not to mention the additional Biblical references.

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.


Manipulating the Devil's Advocate [Note: I have included my marginal comments in red]

An author's representation of characters within a literary work typically plays an integral role in the determination of the reader's interpretations of those characters. A unique situation exists in some pieces, in which a reader's preconceived notions pertaining to a particular character may conflict with the author's portrayal of that character. In the case of Paradise Lost, Milton's role reversal of the stereotypical attributes associated with both God and Satan free the reader to contemplate new interpretations of those characters, while the seemingly contradictory aspect of Milton's depictions of the accepted roles of God and Satan manipulate the reader.

Milton effectively plays off of the reader's preset convictions involving the role of God in the world and in each person's individual life. Utilizing such beliefs that are familiar, if not agreed upon by even the most religiously skeptical, atheistic reader, Milton presents a previously unseen perspective of stories made familiar through the Bible. A reader today as well as a reader of Milton's time could naturally conjure an image of God, as depicted through both Biblical means and social stereotyping. God is, for example, generally believed to be just, as depicted in Revelation 19:7, in which the apostle John recounts the tale of a great multitude in heaven shouting, "Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our god, for true and just are his judgments." God is also considered to be a merciful and faithful leader, as attested in Deuteronomy 4:31, which claims: "For the Lord your god is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your forefathers, which he confirmed to them by oath." Daniel 9:9 furthers this notion of mercy, adding the traditional element depicting God as forgiving as well. As Daniel states, "The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him." The perfection of God's rule, another common association, is depicted in Psalm 19:7's statement that "The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul." To a Christian, or to a well-read individual of both Milton's time or current day, the name of God is indeed synonymous with adjectives depicting justice, mercy, perfection, and above all love of all creation, including the evil of the world.

Upon reading portions of Milton's Paradise Lost, however, the reader is suddenly thrust into a world in which a slight shift of perspective may send multitudes of accepted notions concerning God into an instantaneous shambles. The fictionalizing alone of such familiar stories as Adam and Eve's temptation in Eden and Satan's fall from Heaven's grace may disturb the reader's acceptance of traditionally agreed-upon roles played by god. Furthermore, Milton's attempt to depict the holy and omniscient God in human terms may in and of itself prove to be the beginning sign of a creeping doubt plaguing some readers whose perception of God had previously been so lofty [word choice: anything better?].

Milton thus begins his task of attempting to dispel a multitude of previously agreed-upon beliefs concerning the many facets of God as a leader, mentor, and even friend. A God whose judgments are Biblically described as "true and just" is brought under scrutiny by Milton's offering of an interpretation of Satan's reaction to God's actions, a concern perhaps never previously considered by the reader, whose Biblical and social background would concur that Satan is evil and deserves no such consideration. Milton begins to turn the reader against God by Satan' embittered depiction of God's rule, which appears to be at the opposite end of the spectrum from the traditional notions of justice:

[Note: officially this is a sentence fragment: you should always try to provide enough quotation to make sense grammatically, without, of course, overwhelming the reader.] Rather than just and loving, tyrannical and forceful seem more depictive of God, as viewed by Milton's Satan. Biblical references refer to God as forgiving and merciful, but hypocritical and unduly harsh seem more to apply to the God depicted by Milton. Milton allows God's own comments to condemn him in the assessment of the reader, who can much more easily identify with an imperfect Satan than a "perfect' God, whose ways seem flawed by human standards but are justified in divine terms incomprehensible to mere mortals. God's harshness on sinners may seem inconsistent to the reader, as God announces:

God's logic seems flawed, dispelling the belief that God is merciful to sinners. God admits that his policies of mercy, love, and forgiveness extend to everyone--except "those who neglect and scorn," perhaps encompassing those individuals who most need God's mercy and forgiveness. While God explains his justification of distribution of mercy and forgiveness, the varied manner in which he deals with such notable sinners as Adam, Eve, and Satan may further alienate the reader from a seemingly hypocritical God. Milton addresses the issue of God's system of punishment, explaining:

While God damns Satan to eternal hell, he shows pity on the human sinners in the personages of Adam and Eve. The fairness of such a decree is alone questionable, but may be found acceptable by the reader on the grounds of God's divine knowledge and unparalleled sense of justice. Each seeming offense committed by God, as Milton himself unfalteringly questions God's logic [awkward], could perhaps be tolerated or agreed upon, with the simple claim that humans cannot possibly understand God's omnipotent knowledge. The collective [diction] failure of Milton's God to live up to the Biblical standards accepted by most readers, however, cannot be denied as the reader observes Milton's sometimes blatant, but often subtle, criticisms. The reader thus begins to question the repercussions of such a notion: If God is perhaps not the just and merciful leader depicted in Biblical terms, the role of Satan, by default, must be that of the victim.

Milton's Satan is believable in human terms, endearing him at least in some capacity [word choice] to the reader. The devout reader will recall the most recognized Biblical depiction of Satan as Peter warns in 1 Peter 5:8: "Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." Adam and Eve may attest to this literal truth as Satan takes on various animal shapes, spying on Adam and Eve as "A lion now he stalks with fiery glare" (4.402). Aside from this allusion used by Milton to provide emphasis for his anti-Satan façade, Satan seems to play the part more of a misunderstood hero than of the wicked villain to all humanity. The obvious distinction in Milton's depiction of Satan's battle against God and his angels from the Biblical reference to the occurrence provides further reason for sympathy with Milton's Satan. As Revelation 12:7-9 relates:

Few non-Pagan readers would have sympathy for the raging and evil rebel depicted in this Biblical account of the battle, in which Satan is identified as "the dragon," "the ancient serpent," and the one "who leads the whole world astray." A contrasted [not quite a correct use of "contrasted" here] version of the battle as depicted by Milton evokes much more sympathy from the reader for Satan, as Satan fills the role of the persecuted revolutionary, pitting himself against a tyrannical leader in the name of liberty. In Satan's more eloquent moments, he endears himself in particular to a modern reader whose ideas of democracy would be aroused by God's seemingly unjust monarchical rule. Perhaps merely rationalizing his fate of being doomed to Hell, Satan nonetheless profoundly observes: "Here at least/ We shall be free" (1.258-259) and "Better to reign in hell, than serve in Heaven" (1.163). Taking a stand for certain freedoms, as Milton himself so blatantly [word choice] did, Satan becomes perversely appealing to the reader, who perhaps derives his own rebellious pleasure from feeling as though he is able to identify with such an otherwise scorned character.

Thus the reader's whole system of beliefs is challenged, as he struggles to place the seemingly contradictory accounts given by Milton and the Bible into a logical, acceptable means of understanding. Perhaps most detrimental to a reader's sense of interpretation of Milton's representations of God and Satan is the pervasive sense that, on the surface, Milton's accounts follow a general correspondence to the Biblical stories, except that the reader is given a new perspective on the familiar commentaries. Milton never outwardly and blatantly admits his own sympathy for Satan, and the reader therefore becomes manipulated by the incessant questioning of the discrepancy between what Milton says and what Milton means. There exist a plethora of possible conclusions to be drawn by Milton's initial reversal of the stereotypical roles of God and Satan yet [awkward] his maintaining of the surface claims to support the traditional Biblical notions he is so careful in dispelling. Perhaps in uncovering his own hidden interpretations of Milton's God and Satan, the reader may come to understand his own façade of beliefs on a more extended level. [a rather weak ending; it would have been wonderful if you could have ended with some definitive explanation of why we are given such contradictory material.]