In his epic, Paradise Lost, John Milton explores the concept of labor and it’s connection with obedience. While the word “labor” often express work of any kind, true labor involves tiresome, physical exertion and seems to suggest a bodily burden and trying task. When a job appears enjoyable, such work does not constitute real labor, but instead often represents a reward for obedience. Through the juxtaposition of a relaxed, content life with one filled with burdensome and physical exertion, Milton emphasizes the importance of obedience and illustrates how disobedience results in bodily punishment.
Because God has created mankind, giving them free will and reason, He wants Adam and Eve to obey his single, simple command expecting that they will follow his order out of love and respect for their creator. Adam warns Eve not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil stating that it serves as “`The only sign of our obedience left / Among so many signs of power and rule / Conferred upon us, and dominion giv’n / Over all other creatures'” (IV. 427-431). God demonstrates his love for mankind, giving Adam and Eve a great amount of authority in the new world, as they have “so many signs of power” and have control over all the other animals on Earth. At this point, because mankind continues to act obediently, submitting to God’s will, they receive many rewards from their creator. God makes only a single, straightforward and easy to obey demand that they must not eat from the tree. Not eating the fruit remains “the only sign of our obedience” to God since they have so much power and control on earth. By using the word “only,” Milton emphasizes the ease in following God’s command since Adam and Eve have just…
…”hard” to endure. He acknowledges that obedience exists as an “easy yoke” which suggests that God does not make extraordinarily difficult demands and following God’s demands appears as a relatively “easy task.”
Because Adam and Eve repent for their disobedience and commit themselves to following God’s orders in the future, the possibility for salvation exist for them. The rebellious angels, however, continue to disobey God without showing remorse for their defiance and thus seem to fall deeper in their troubles as their punishment increases. Thus, through both the human fall and the rebellion of the angels, Milton suggests a high value in obedience since failure to comply often results in burdensome and trying physical punishment.
Milton, John. Paradise Lost. Ed. Scott Elledge. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.,1993.