John Milton’s great epic, Paradise Lost, has generated several interesting literary and social interpretations ever since it was written. Every scholar and critic, however, agrees that Milton wrote the epic to justify the ways of God to men. It is the story of the fall of man. The difference among the critics is only about the way Milton has treated the relationship between Adam and Eve. They are seen as the first man and woman trying to settle their place in the society, as belonging to opposite sexes. Adam is, unfortunately, accused as a man trying to dominate Eve. This view gets strengthened as the feminists these days read too much between the lines in the poem. As they examine Eve and her role in the epic, sufficient examples as proof emerge from the poem to support their views. The obvious doubt is whether Milton sees Eve as equal to Adam or as a subordinated woman, as a weaker sex. Such approach can only belittle the greatness of the character of Adam whose role in the epic is much more than that of a lover. He is, first of all, created as a contrast to Satan. This paper takes a brief look at the relationship between Adam and Eve as depicted by Milton in his epic in the light of the new controversies.
The different roles given to the central characters in Paradise Lost are clear, and at the beginning of the poem Milton announces what he is writing about: “Of Mans first disobedience and the fruit/ Of that forbidden tree…” (Book.1). The main doubt is whether Milton was badly influenced by the social views prevailing in his society at the time of writing his epic. Adam is strong, intelligent, and very rational. Though Satan is the villain, he has managed to earn the title of the hero of Paradise Lost. It is only Eve who creates doubts among the readers. The poet himself says: “though both.
Not equal, as their sex not equal seemed;” (Book 1V). If Eve’s physical features, her response to her husband, her response to the place, and her duties as a woman are closely examined, it can easily be established that she represents a seventeenth century woman. Eve is painted as an object of beauty, an object of attraction, as is the case of the fair sex in most of the human societies. For her Adam is the God: “For softness she and sweet attractive grace; /He for God only, she for God in him:” (Book 1V). The only weakness in Adam is that his love towards Eve overwhelms him.
Several examples are taken from the poem by the scholars to indicate that Eve is an inferior being. Eve’s attempt to see her own image in water is taken as an example of her vanity, to see her own self. Adam’s efforts to assign the domestic duties to Eve are seen as another example which Milton must have taken directly from his social habits. Adam’s request to Eve to prepare meals is also seen as a patriarchal habit. All these show that Eve is given a traditional sphere within which she must play her female role. Even the place where she is placed creates suspicion. The garden and the flowers serve as her background: “With flowers, garlands, and sweet-smelling herbs, / Espoused Eve decked first her nuptial bed;” (B00k 1V). The poet is certainly influenced by the traditional instinct to identify the fair sex with such a natural background. At the same time, Adam is given with all the physical and intelligent activities: “Man hath his daily work of body or mind/ Appointed, which declares his dignity, “(Book 1V). Eve is confined to the role of an object, to be seen and to be had. Adam learns many things from Raphael, but Eve does not directly take from him. She can increase her knowledge from her husband only, not from any outsider. The excessive importance given to the word “marriage” in the epic also irritates the feminists. It is only through the wedlock a woman gets a chance to see and know the world.
The central question is whether Eve can lead an independent life in her world or not. The husband “guards her, or with her the worst endures.” (Book 1X). Unfortunately, even the very creation of Eve originates from man’s desire and his imagination. A great paradoxical question emerging from Milton’s Paradise is why Satan chose Eve and not Adam for inciting temptation. It is a riddle: “He sought them both, but wished his hap might find/ Eve separate” (1X). The only answer to this can be that Adam with his intelligence, Satan knows, is beyond temptation, though he too falls after Eve succumbs. This is enough to establish that Eve is created as the weaker sex and it is enough to stir the feminists. To look for the actual position of Eve and to examine her relationship with Adam thus becomes the focus of the modern studies of this great epic. This tendency to view with gender consciousness has done great damage to the study of Paradise Lost. There is even an attempt to go back to the pre-Adamic consciousness, the pure consciousness, which may be an answer to the evils of phallic consciousness.
Paradise Lost is a glorious poem. It shows Milton’s great vision and his firm knowledge of the hierarchy. The moral lesson he imparts through the story of man’s fall is a lasting one. The entire drama in the epic is what is being enacted in every human soul from generation to generation. Satan is part of man, as is Adam. The only way for peaceful life on earth is to follow the ways of God. Milton has not only tried to show the ways of God to man but also the right role one should play in one’s married life. Therefore, Milton’s poem should be taken in a positive sense.
Milton, John. Paradise Lost. http://www.online-literature.com/milton/paradiselost/1. Retrieved on 5 April, 2008.