Even within Paradise Lost

Even within Paradise Lost, often criticized as an anti-feminist work by feminist writers, Milton is writing in support of women – yes, Eve eats the fruit and convinces Adam to do the same, thereby causing the Fall of Man; but Milton is working within the framework of the Genesis story and, as a Protestant who firmly believes in the sanctity of words of the Bible, he cannot change the ending. What he can do – what he does do – is shift as much blame away from Eve as possible. Immediately before Satan tempts Eve, Adam and Eve have an argument. Eve wants to split up the work of tending the Garden, as there is so much to do and the two keep getting distracted talking to each other rather than working. Adam disagrees – he and Eve have been warned that an enemy lurks, “watches, no doubt, with greedy hope to find/His wish and best advantage, us asunder” (384). Had Adam left it at that, it would have been understandable – implying that two are better than one, that they are stronger together. However, Adam continues to speak and makes his opinion of their unequal statuses clear: “The Wife, where danger or dishonor lurks,/Safe and seemliest by her Husband stays,/Who guards her, or with her the worst endures” (385). Eve is offended by this fundamental weakness Adam assumes she has, asking him if “thy fear, which plain infers…my firm Faith and Love/Can by Satan’s fraud be shak’n or seduc’t;/Thoughts, which how found they harbor in thy breast,/Adam, misthought of her to thee so dear?” (385). Eve is not only offended, but distraught; how could Adam, her other half, have “misthought” of her, not believe in her “firm Faith and Love” – how can he not have faith in her and the strength of her love and faith, equal to his? Adam attempts to take back the insult, to clarify what he actually meant, but in the end he cannot and capitulates to Eve, agreeing to work separately. Now that Adam has revealed his true opinion of Eve, he has opened a wound: he has told Eve that he does not consider her his equal, shaking her belief in herself as his equal; now she believes that Adam sees her as his inferior, and this wound Adam causes is the beginning of the end.

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