'Paradise Lost' - "Our Flesh is An Eve Within Us"- The Presentation of Eve and her role in the Fall.
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Word Count: 3,266 'Paradise Lost' "Our Flesh is An Eve Within Us"1 - The Presentation of Eve and her role in the Fall Paradise Lost begins and ends with Man, but this is not Man as we know him in daily life, nor indeed as he is usually depicted in literature, but a perfect, pre-lapsarian Man. The primary concern of this epic poem appears to be "man's first disobedience"2 and the results of that action. However, although Milton uses the word "man", it is universally understood that it was not a man, but a woman who disobeyed God and brought about the downfall of the human race. This woman is Eve. Diane Kelsey McColley in her book Milton's Eve asserts that the "story of our first parents shows woman as flesh, passions, nature, and sexuality seducing man as soul, reason, spiritual virtue and contemplation from his proper relation to God".3 The portrayal of Eve as primordial temptress is a long-standing one and can be found not only discursively in literary history but also pictorially in art history, and these traditions are perhaps accountable for the reductive opinion of Eve today. Before Paradise Lost, literary accounts of the Fall interpreted the story as male virtue undone by female concupiscence and masculine reason undermined by feminine passion. This blame for Eve as Adam's inferior perhaps originates from the source of the story, the book of Genesis. When God discovered that the apple had been eaten, He inquired of Adam whether he had eaten from the tree of knowledge. Unquestionably accepting his answer that the blame should be heaped on Eve, for it was she who had given it to him, He then proceeded to accuse her for the disobedience: "And the LORD God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done?" (Genesis 3:13) 4 This accusation is directed only at Eve, as God assumes Adam's view that she is the one to blame.
and Eve possessing an equal power to name the flowers (XI: 277). The first parents, as an equal couple, "perfectly incarnate the proper relations and actions of the two sexes"19. The idea that pre-lapsarian Adam and Eve had a sexual relationship causes much debate amongst critics. Whether such intimate relations were appropriate for the innocent and perfect pair is debatable, but I believe that pure love such as theirs cannot possibly be inappropriate, and that a lack of sexual love would indicate a flaw in their relationship. God created them to be the mother and father of mankind, to ensure continued renewal of life on earth, and so it is with His 'permission' that they make love: "Be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth..." 1 (VII: 531) 20 Fertility in Hell is a curse rather than a blessing; it produces tormenting monsters that feed on their mothers' womb, but conversely, fertility is everywhere in Heaven. The reader can "apprehend it in the light, the fountains, the rivers, the flowers, the dances, and the songs".21 Raphael tells Adam that the angels, the intermediaries between Man and God, contain within them "every lower faculty" (V: 410)22 which enables them to enjoy sexual relations themselves: "Let it suffice thee that thou know'st Us happy, and without love no happiness. ...we enjoy ...and obstacle find none Of membrane, joint, or limb, exclusive bars: Easier than air with air, if Spirits embrace, Total they mix, union of pure with pure Desiring..." (VIII: 620-628) 23 This is an example of a purer and loftier union than that of Man, but represents the transcendence of human love between a man and woman, thus rendering it 'appropriate', natural and credible. When placed in the context of Milton's beliefs and the politics of the times, his conviction that there could be no paradise for man without sexual love seems personal and original. But in doing so, he attacks not only the "conventional idea that sexual intercourse was a result, (if not a cause)
Paradise Lost was published in 1667, having been written in a period of great social unrest. The government believed to be God's government by Milton and his fellow Puritans had collapsed in 1660 with the Restoration of Charles II. This raised moral questions which I believe in part to be responsible for Milton's questioning about the "ways of God" (I: 26)33, and which resulted in the exploration in this poem of a God who does not intervene to stifle evil. The brief image of the labourer returning home after a day's work in the fields at the end of Book XII of Paradise Lost is "especially effective, a moving evocation of the life and toil and poverty and weariness and also of homely satisfactions - all the common experience of humanity which Adam and Eve must now face".34 Eve, though fallen, is in the process of regeneration, and, just like the political climate of Milton's era, can resume development of her pre-lapsarian virtues, though now through pain and "woe" (I: 3).35 1 McColley 1983, 11 2 Milton 2000, 3 3 McColley 1983, 11 4 The Holy Bible, 7 5 The Holy Bible, 7 6 both quotations from The Holy Bible, 1126 7 Both quotations are used in this context by McColley 1983, 11 8 McColley 1983, plates between pages 16 and 17 9 McColley 1983, 8 10 Milton 2000, 178 11 Milton 2000, 81 12 Milton 2000, 81 13 The Holy Bible, 7 14 Ideas for this point taken from McColley, 39 15 Milton 2000, 92 16 Milton 2000, 81 17 Milton 2000, 85 18 Milton 2000, 81 19 Summers 1962, 98 20 Milton 2000, 164 21 Summers 1962, 93 22 Milton 2000, 112 23 Milton 2000, 201 24 Summers 1962, 99 25 Milton 2000, 191-2 26 Milton 2000, 195 27 Dyson & Lovelock 1984, 125 28 Milton 2000, 240 29 Danielson 1989, 107 30 Milton 2000, 199 31 Danielson 1989, 28 32 Campbell 1996, 31 33 Milton 2000, 3 34 Patrides 1967, 247 35 Milton 2000, 3 Exam No: 38691 1
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