Alexander Pope’s An Essay on Man is an attempt to vindicate, as Milton had attempted to justify, the ways of God to man. Both attempt to explain God to man, but come up with different conclusions. Milton states that man can overcome God’s design through faith and decency. In contrast, Pope remarks that man must accept what life gives him without trying to change his fate. Milton seeks to “justify the ways of God to men” (Paradise Lost, 1. 26) through example. Paradise Lost focuses on the fall of man and the consequences thereof. After the fall of man, Adam and Eve must endure their punishments, and achieve redemption.
They can no longer live within the confines of Eden; but through faith and conviction they will persevere. God gives Adam and Eve free will and the use of reason. Although they choose poorly and are punished with the pains and sufferings of humanity, God allows Adam and Eve to live; though not as they were accustomed to in Paradise. They must live life as we know it; with its weaknesses, yearnings, inevitable defeats; but with the knowledge that they can overcome “To leave this Paradise, but shalt posses / A Paradise within thee, happier far” (Paradise Lost, 12. 586-587).
Similar to Milton, Pope tries to “vindicate the ways of God to man” (An Essay on Man, p. 2264. 16), however he derives a different conclusion. Pope believes that “In pride, in reasoning pride, our error lies” (An Essay on Man, p. 2266. 123). He sets out to demonstrate that no matter how imperfect and disturbingly evil the universe may appear; it is nonetheless a work of God and must be accepted “Then say not man’s imperfect, Heaven in fault; / Say rather, man’s as perfect as he ought” (An Essay on Man, p. 2265. 69-70). It seems imperfect to us only because our perceptions are limited by our moral and intellectual capacity.
His conclusion is “And, spite of pride, in erring reason’s spite, / One truth is clear: Whatever is, is RIGHT” (An Essay on Man, p. 2270. 291 – 292) that we must learn to accept our positions in the universe, in which we can, lead happy and virtuous lives. Both Milton and Pope try to defend the ways of God to man, but in different ways. Milton shows, through Adam and Eve, that man will suffer and experience pain while on earth, but they must overcome that suffering and remain good in all doing. Pope, on the other hand, realizes that there is pain and suffering but says that man must accept this and move on.