December 7, 2009

Milton's Fall of Adam and Eve as the Fall of Relationships

Part 1 of 2
John Milton's Paradise Lost creatively recasts the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the War in Heaven, and the promised redemption of humankind. In this paper I explore the conversations and personal speeches between Adam and Eve in books IX and X. These exchanges seem to depict the Fall as being built around relationships. The "relational Fall" of Adam and Eve took place within the context of at least four relationships, each of which alternately fracture and repair (1- Adam and Eve, 2- Adam and God, 3- Eve and God, 4- Eve, Adam, and God). At the outset of book IX when Milton invokes his muse and describes his literary efforts in writing the epic he laments that “the better fortitude of Patience and Heroic martyrdom” are often “unsung” in the great and popular epics. Paradise Lost can be seen as Milton's attempt to depict better examples of an heroic martyrdom—those which serve to repair broken relationships.1 The heroic moments include the Son’s volunteering to take upon himself the sins of man, and on a lesser scale, Adam’s decision to partake of the fruit to remain with Eve and Eve’s throwing herself at the feet of Adam to ask forgiveness, she being the first to take personal responsibility for the trouble.2

In Book IX Adam and Eve are preparing to begin their daily work in Paradise.3 A conversation takes place in which Eve suggests they separate from each other for a while and Adam argues they ought to stay together. Their exchange reveals important aspects of their relationship which are later related to their respective and collective falls.

Eve feels they have more work than they can handle. By working separately they will accomplish more because they won’t be distracted by each other’s beauty or conversation (220-225).4 Adam responds that her idea is good and that it becomes her as a woman—she should be expected to promote good acts in her husband (234).5 Nevertheless, Adam says her reasoning for their separation is not sufficient: “Yet not so strictly hath our Lord impos’d / Labour.” God doesn’t mind their getting refreshment, “whether food, or talk between, / Food of the mind, or this sweet intercourse,” (235-238). The couple was created to be together and enjoy life in a relationship. Despite his misgivings, Adam begins to capitulate with an element of foreshadowing: “But if much converse perhaps Thee satiate, to short absence I could yield” (246-247). If she has already had her fill of conversation for the present it might be fine to take a break from each other. Of course, Eve proved more hungry than Adam expected. She later satiated her hunger in a conversation with a serpent and again by partaking of the apple (instances of “food” and “talk between” that Adam had mentioned above). Adam offers another reason they should stay together: according to Milton’s story they had earlier been warned of a certain foe who would try to spoil things for them and suggests that when they are together they are stronger against assault. Any adversary would be “Hopeless to circumvent us joined, where each / To other speedy aid might lend at need” (259-260). Adam seems to imply it is the aspect of relationship that will be the focus of the foe’s attack: “Whether his first design be to withdraw / Our fealty from God, or to disturb / Conjugal love…” (261-263). Ultimately the foe’s design includes each of those relationships.

Although Adam concludes his argument with a hint of chauvinism to discourage the separation,6 Eve’s response is restrained because she loves Adam and chooses to overlook his seeming unkindness.7 This trait of Eve’s will appear again in a more serious situation after she finds Adam lying on the ground in his misery once they both have partaken of the fruit and he angrily rebuffs her. But in this instance she maintains an “austere composure”(272). She is surprised to hear that Adam doubts her firmness to God and him—again emphasizing relationships. His fear that the foe could mislead her reveals his fear that her faith and love could be shaken or seduced by fraud. How, she asks, could he think that of her? Adam senses her hurt feelings and seeks to repair the breach. Throughout this conversation each person attempts to properly defer to the other. Perhaps this is why it takes several exchanges before the decision to separate temporarily is made, and why the ultimate decision does not seem like the most logical outcome of those exchanges. Adam tells Eve that the actual tempting would be an affront to her and would dishonor her (297). Besides, the foe is more likely to go after him first so he needs Eve nearby to strengthen him. (Is he being condescending?) And as she strengthens him, he notes that he can likewise strengthen her. This seems to be a pretty equal situation where they help each other. His advice, he being the “head” of the relationship, is spoken out of “care and Matrimonial love” (318-319). Their safest resort is in the context of relationship. Soon their relationship will be connected directly with their individual falls as well as their fall as a couple from God and the Garden.

Eve is not persuaded and tells Adam their state is pretty sorry if they have to be connected at the hip all the time (or at the ribs?). Besides, the foe would only dishonor himself, and his failed attempt would only serve to make Adam and Eve look all the better: “By us? who rather double honor gain” (332). If they can’t stand on their own, they have been created too weak by their Maker: “Let us not then suspect our happy State / Left so imperfect by our Maker wise, / As not secure to single or combin’d. / Frail is our happiness if this be so, / And Eden were no Eden” (337-340). Their faith, love and virtue are better if tried and proven true. For Milton, there is no true virtue if it is not truly tried and proved virtuous. In Milton’s Areopagitica he wrote in opposition to the pre-censorship of literature in England.8 Such censorship would make virtue meaningless: “If every action which is good or evil in man at ripe years were to be under…compulsion, what were virtue but a name?” Those who complain about God “suffering Adam to transgress” are “Foolish tongues! [W]hen God gave him reason, he gave him freedom to choose.” Otherwise, he would have been “a mere artificial Adam” in a puppet show.9 “We ourselves esteem not that of obedience, or love, or gift, which is of force; God therefore left him free."10 In a way, Eve is right when she says that if they are not as secure separately their happiness is “frail,” but she is incorrect in thinking such a circumstance could not be an Eden. Her attitude of not seeming to care about their current separation stands in stark contrast to her later horror at the thought of separation after she had partaken of the fruit. She realizes she will die: “then I shall be no more, / And Adam wedded to another Eve, / Shall live with her enjoying, I extinct; / A death to think” (827-830). Is it weak for Eve to want so badly to be with Adam? Her statement that “Eden were no Eden” if it is built on such interdependence stands in sharp contrast to the internal Eden, or the Eden of their relationship Eve later prefers, as I will discuss below. As Adam and Eve are being led out of the Garden, Eve tells Adam to “lead on; / In me is no delay; with thee to go, / Is to stay here [in Eden]; without thee here to stay, / Is to go hence unwilling,” (Book XII:614-617).11

But they are not to that point yet. The pre-lapsarian argument about separating continues in the next post.

This post is the rough draft of a paper I wrote for English 5721 ("Milton") at the University of Utah. The notion of Eve’s action as representing a sort of “heroic martyrdom” is from Daniel W. Doerksen, "Let There be Peace": Eve as Redemptive Peacemaker in Paradise Lost, Book X," Milton Quarterly 31.4 (1997) 124-130. Professor Barry Weller qualified Doerksen’s claim, stating that Eve’s action was certainly illustrative of self-sacrifice but questions whether it qualifies as “martyrdom.” For him, depicting Eve’s action as an instance of heroic martyrdom seems hyperbolic. Instead, Milton uses the phrase to anticipate the sufferings of Christ more specifically. Nevertheless, Weller noted, “it is at least worth emphasizing that the admirable—even the partially admirable—actions of the poem entail a disregard of one’s own immediate interests,” (personal communication, 2 December 2009). This paper is focused on Paradise Lost. Only peripheral attention is given to some of Milton's other writings and none to that of his contemporaries. The image is Gustave DorĂ© (1832 – 1883), Adam and Eve Driven out of Eden.

Eve's actions are especially noteworthy considering the circumstances. Milton depicted her decision to partake of the fruit as being the result of true deception by the serpent whereas Adam made a willful and knowing decision. In this sense it can be argued that Eve is actually less "blameworthy" than Adam, but nevertheless is the first to try to repair their broken relationship.

Depicting Adam and Eve's actions in the Garden as including work is interesting since the Biblical account doesn’t depict much work prior to the Fall, unless one counts Adam’s naming of the animals or God’s creation of Eve.

Eve tells Adam: “For while so near each other thus all day / Our task we choose, what wonder if so near / Looks intervene and smiles, or object new / Casual discourse draw on, which intermits / Our day’s work brought to little, though begun / Early, and the hour of supper comes unearned” (Book IX:220-225).

At first blush, Adam’s response to Eve seems a condescending and sexist. The reader may keep in mind Adam is being utterly sincere.

“…leave not the faithful side / That gave thee being, still shades thee and protects. / The wife, where danger or dishonor lurks, / Safest and seemliest by her husband stays, / Who guards her, or with her the worst endures” (266-269).

Already before the Fall it seems there are some tempting situations where blissful relationship could be threatened. After Adam concludes, Milton prefaces Eve’s response by describing her mindset: “To whom the virgin majesty of Eve, / As one who loves, and some unkindness meets, / With sweet austere composure thus replied” (270-272).

England's Licensing Order of 1643 reinstated pre-publication censorship whereby any publication had to be approved and authorized before being published. Milton wrote in opposition to this rule, though he evidently still supported the outright censorship of Catholic literature as well as post-publication censorship. See John Milton, author, Stephen Orgel, Jonathan Goldberg eds., The Major Works (Oxford World's Classics), Oxford University Press (2003), p. 821-822.

John Milton, “Areopagitica,” ibid., p. 252.

Milton, ibid., p. 252.

This re-defining of Eden is also described to Adam by Michael the archangel. While Eve is sleeping, Michael gives Adam an overview of the future of his seed and promises the hope of a Redeemer, saying: “then wilt thou not be loath / To leave this Paradise, but shalt possess / A paradise within thee, happier far,” Book XII:587.


Henry Zhang said...

Great discussion! It helped a lot with my essay exploring Eve representing the science revolution aspect of Renaissance whereas Adam the religion -- in a contemporary sense or ultimate.

Blair Hodges said...

Cool, glad you found it useful, Henry. I'd forgotten I posted this!

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