Books XI and XII of Paradise Lost further the gender issues we discussed in class on Monday. As Michael sits and relates the postlapsarian future of mankind to Adam (imagine how awkward that conversation must have been – “Hey Adam, you and Eve kind of ruined humanity, good job”) he sends a dream to Eve. What is it about Eve that makes her so prone to dreams/prophecies? Her feminine intuition/nature? The fact that she’s not missing a rib? Is it this that Satan capitalizes on when he seduces Eve? Another interesting thought: what would have happened if Eve had not succeeded in convincing Adam to eat the fruit? I think the answer, or at least the direction of an answer, to all these questions lies in how Eve came about, her formative years if you will. When Eve was first created, she did not want to be with Adam – she saw her reflection and instantly became enamored with her own form. She never had God’s guidance; all her knowledge is either innate or a result of Adam. Could Eve’s temptation be a result of a fomenting rebellion, one which would free her from Adam’s authority? In Satan’s speech of temptation, he refers to Eve as “queen” and a “goddess” and she even considers not sharing the fruit with Adam so that she may have power for herself. It seems that these are the thoughts of someone who is not entirely happy with her current relationship. Then again, after sleeping on it, Eve seems overcome with guilt. If a parallel can be drawn between Satan and Eve solely on the basis of rebellious instincts, Eve at least repented. Though God punished her with the pain of childbirth and death, she still has the knowledge that all humanity will stem from her. Satan wasn’t so lucky – he was transformed into a snake and forced to remain in Hell after all.
Compared to other parts of the story of Genesis, the fall and punishment of Adam and Eve offered Milton more Biblical framework to work within. Where other sections of Paradise Lost were almost entirely creative fabrications on the part of the poet, the end of Man’s innocence in Eden is fairly well documented, including dialogue between the Serpent and Eve, as well as a lengthy description in Genesis III of God’s punishment of Man in the Garden. Considering the unalterable nature of this story, it is interesting to consider the ways which Milton shapes the progress of his own narrative. Take for instance the presence of Satan’s descent into Chaos after his supposed victory in Eden. This isn’t present in the Bible at all, so why does Milton include it in PL? Inconsistencies between the epic itself and the foundational text are where I think the most interesting parts of PL lie, because we can use them as windows for insight into what Milton himself believed and created. I’m trying to keep this in mind when writing my draft for the final; it’s easy to get caught up in the narrative that’s out of the poet’s control, but the really meaty parts of the text are places where he works within the framework to complicate the biblical story.
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