Paradise Lost: Eve as the Weak Link
Paradise Lost is an epic poem by Milton written in the 17th century. The poem focuses on the story of creation, Satan’s fall from heaven into hell and the fall of man. Milton’s analysis of the story aligns with biblical accounts. The poem’s main characters include God, the Son, and various angels, Satan, Adam and Eve. The poem is divided into various books focusing on specific events and themes. The story of creation and the fall of man has always been of great interest, which is one of the reasons why Milton wrote the poem. Milton mainly relied on dictation to write the epic poem as he was blind at the time, and he was also grieving the death of his wife and daughter. Some of the major themes in the poem include love and marriage, hierarchy and order, as well as sin and innocence, as portrayed in passage 4.449-91.
Milton uses various literary devices in the poem, one of these being imagery. Passage 4.449-91 focuses on Eve waking up after creation and meeting Adam for the first time. She woke up in a shade of flowers and heard the sound of water flowing, “Not distant far from thence a murmuring sound/ Of waters issu’d from a Cave and spread” (Milton 4.453-454). While reading this line, one can imagine the sound of flowing water in the background as described by Eve. Another example of imagery in the passage is Eve looking into the water to see an image of herself staring back. At first, she did not realize that the fair image she saw was her own until a voice told her. Eve vividly describes how she stood at the river bank and looked into the clear waters that bore the reflection of the sky. Her own beautiful face stared back at her, and the reader can conjure up this image in their own minds. Imagery is an important part of literature as it allows readers to imagine the events in any literary work, improving the readers’ literary experience.
Eve’s awaking in the shade is an important symbol in the passage. The shade represents darkness, which is used across the epic poem to symbolize separation from God’s light. The dark is used to describe evil in the poem, mainly associated with hell and the fallen angels. In the absence of God’s light, evil abounds. An example of this is Eve’s vanity when she is captivated by her own good looks. This is an example of a quality of darkness. Light is associated with God, his angels and his grace. Eve’s reflection in the water is yet another example of symbolism. Eve was created in the image of Adam, while Adam was created in God’s image. This symbolizes that Adam is superior to Eve.
The passage from book 4, 4.449-91, exemplifies some of the major themes within the epic poem as a whole. One of these themes is hierarchy and order. Milton’s writing about women, specifically Eve, reflects a lot of the ideas common during his time. For example, women were expected to submit to their husbands, which is made clear in Adam’s words. God used a bone from Adam’s side to create Eve, and Adam marvelled at Eve’s beauty, saying, “How beauty is excelld by manly grace” (Milton 4.490). From this statement, man is superior to the woman as she was created from him. Man is also closer to God since he was created in God’s image. The theme of hierarchy is pronounced in this passage and is also prevalent in other parts of the poem. Other examples include God being greater than man, the heavens being greater than the earth, and heavenly angels being greater than the fallen ones, including Satan.
The theme of love and marriage is also explored in the passage from book 4. Milton reinforces his idea of the submission of women in marriage as they are inferior to men. The marriage between Adam and Eve is not a marriage of equals, so Eve must submit to Adam. Adam’s direct relationship with God as a result of creation puts Eve in second place. She must obey Adam since he has a direct relationship with God. Adam tells Eve of how she was created from him, implying that she belongs to him. When Eve wants to flee from Adam under the Platan tree, he exclaims, “Whom fli’st thou? whom thou fli’st, / of him thou art, / His flesh, his bone; to give thee being I lent/ Out of my side to thee, neerest my heart” ( Milton 4.482-485). This statement represents the power dynamic in Adam and Eve’s relationship. Although Adam might just have been trying to call Eve back, he uses the fact that she was created from him to show his superiority and demand her submission. Eve is described as Adam’s other half, destined to help him through his journey. During the 17th century, the idea of women being inferior was rarely questioned, and that is why Milton writes of Eve’s willingness to accept anything that Adam said.
Adam and Eve are still innocent during this passage from the poem, although that will later change. The theme of sin and innocence is pronounced throughout the poem. Before Adam and Eve ate the fruit, they were innocent, but their disobedience marked the beginning of sin. Passage 4.449-91 shows Eve as weak-willed and vain, setting her up to fall into Satan’s temptation. At first, she is innocent and fails to recognize even her own reflection. An invisible voice commands her to leave her reflection, and she leaves without question. Her willingness to obey a voice shows that she blindly follows instructions, which leads her to follow Satan’s lead and disobey God. Adam and Eve start off innocent and determined to obey God, as shown in the scenes before. However, Eve already showed a predisposition to complain, which is why Satan targeted her. Sure enough, Eve yielded to temptation when Satan approached her, and she took Adam with her. Adam never questioned God; he was happy with their life and had no curiosity about why God forbid them to eat of the tree of life. On the other hand, Eve was quite curious and believed Satan’s lies on how God why did not want them to be wiser.
In summary, the epic poem Paradise Lost is an intriguing story of the biblical creation story and the fall of man. The poem explores the story of Satan’s fall from heaven and how he led Adam and Eve astray as well. Milton uses various literary elements such as imagery and symbolism to tell the story, making it more engaging for readers. Book 4, specifically lines 449-91, contains several examples of themes prevalent through the poem, such as sin, innocence, marriage and hierarchy. The brief passage talks about Eve’s earliest experience after creation, including meeting Adam. This passage shows readers some of Eve’s traits that led her to disobey God, such as vanity and a tendency to be easily persuaded. Paradise Lost is an engrossing and entertaining read that allows readers to learn more about the background of each character in the biblical story.
Milton, John. Paradise lost. Hackett Publishing, 2005.