Awake, Arise, or be Forever Fallen: Satan’s Post-traumatic Recovery in Milton’s “Paradise Lost”

By Susie Karpasitis.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Recent interrogations of literary trauma theory and contemporary psychoanalytic models of trauma have foregrounded the application of the diagnostic criteria of PTSD. The symptomolgy of PTSD, and its associated attempts to explain altered states of behaviour and identity, have led to new interpretations of canonical literary texts from a post-traumatic perspective. Moreover, this interdisciplinary shift has led to an increasing alignment of characterisation with both victimisation, and more progressively, survivor empowerment.
This paper will suggest that John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” can now be read in line with current trauma theory as a testament to survival and recovery from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Specifically, the character of Satan readily conforms to Judith Herman’s groundbreaking model of traumatic recovery. Having endured a traumatic experience “outside the range of normal experience”, namely the fall from Heaven, Satan finds his perception of self-autonomy fundamentally challenged and irrevocably altered. It is only through the acknowledgment of his new post-traumatised identity that he is able to pro-actively re-establish the parameters of physical and psychological safety, recognize, and mourn the loss of the previously held status before beginning the therapeutic process of reconnecting with a new post-traumatised environment. Most significantly, it is the paradox between Satan’s proclamation of his successful recovery and the need to define himself against it, thus never fully integrating the trauma into a new beginning, which leaves the character in the position of many sufferers of PTSD, caught between the discursive need to proclaim a renewed self and the inability to distinguish between pre-and post-traumatic constructions of self. The reading posited by this paper will form a new direction and interface in the developing interdisciplinary relationship between literature and post-traumatic identity theories.

Keywords: Trauma, Psychoanalysis, PTSD, Early Modern, Milton, Satan, Paradise Lost

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 9, Issue 5, pp.15-26. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 757.713KB).

Susie Karpasitis

PhD student, Media, Humanities and Technology, University of Lincoln, Lincoln, UK

I am currently in the final year of my PhD, which focuses on representations of psychic trauma in early modern literature. Other areas I am currently researching include: birth trauma, wounding on the Shakespearean stage, representations of loss/grief, castration anxiety, and psychoanalysis.

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