An Argument for Eve’s Innocence in Paradise Lost

June 22, 2019 by Essay Writer

In Milton’s epic poem, Paradise Lost, God’s only two commandments to his newest creations, the humans Adam and Eve, contradict each other. This is because God incorporates the contradictory notions of both faith and reason into the law by which he says Adam and Eve must abide. God first commands Adam to not eat of the Tree of Knowledge; this commandment is governed by a required faith on Adam’s part in God’s righteousness alone. Secondly, God (through implication) commands Adam to live according to his capacity to reason rationally. It is made clear to Adam that the first commandment, having to do with faith, is the primary commandment, since it is the only one God articulates. But, when Adam passes the information on to Eve, he does not make this distinction as clear. He also further convolutes the distinction with other things he says. Thus the order of importance of the two contradictory commandments is lost when told to Eve. Then, In book 9, Satan takes advantage of Eve’s lack of information by presenting Eve with a situation wherein the conclusion that rational reasoning would produce is at odds with the conclusion that a blind trust in faith would produce. Eve cannot abide simultaneously by both of God’s commandments in this situation. By eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge (as Satan tells her to), Eve is guilty of losing faith, which initiates the “original, mortal sin” (9,1003-4). However, acting reasonably is what Adam tells her is otherwise valued by God and is generally the human connection to the divine. Therefore, while Eve is guilty of losing faith (which she understands as one of God’s commandments), she is entirely following God’s (and Adam’s) commandment to be reasonable.God’s commandments are inherently self-contradicting. From Eve’s perspective, the contradiction (of the commandments) is even more apparent, and confusing, since the law she is given is through Adam’s words, which somewhat simplify God’s single spoken commandment by vocalizing the second, implied commandment. Within the hierarchical system that God creates, Eve understands that “God is [Adam’s] law” and Adam is her law (4,637). She must act according to what Adam says is the law in order to obey God. Adam says to Eve, theoretically passing on God’s law to her, that “we [Adam and Eve] may not taste nor touch” the Tree of Knowledge, but otherwise “our Reason is our Law” (9,652-4). From Eve’s perspective, this statement places the contradictory notions of faith and reason up against one another. The command not to touch the Tree only barely takes precedence in this context because the two are spoken so close together. Similarly, Adam tells Eve that “Reason [God] made right” (9,352), and that “lesser faculties serve Reason as chief” (5,102). These statements further indicate that Adam is communicating to Eve the importance of reason, while he does not celebrate faith in the same way. In fact, the first time that he vehemently talks of the importance of faith is after the Fall, saying “let none henceforth seek needless cause to approve the faith they [own]” (9,1141). Naturally, Eve is going to internalize the virtue of reason above the virtue of faith, although technically Adam initially, verbally established that the opposite was the case. Adam does not make it clear to Eve that she should obey a blind faith in God’s command not to eat the fruit from the Tree above his command to obey her ability to reason. Adam’s lack of clarity (in distinguishing the hierarchical order of the two commandments) is compounded by his final words to Eve before her Fall. When Adam and Eve are about to part each others’ company to do their morning’s work separately, Adam incoherently warns Eve . His warning is incoherent because its core meaning is simply to promote the value of reason, not of faith. He says “Reason / may meet / the foe [Satan] / and fall into deception” (9,360-2). The last words she hears from her beloved Adam, her “head” (8,574) is that she should not allow her reason to be deceived. It is possible that Adam was attempting to tell her to not follow her reason at all and stick to her faith, but the way that he says it makes it seem that he is telling her to follow her reason, and not allow deception to intercept its proper functioning. She does just that. She abandons the command to be blindly faithful and chooses to be completely reasonable and rational. Satan’s argument when he is in serpent-form to convince Eve to eat the fruit of the Tree is totally reasonable. She knows that only humans are given the capacity to speak, seeing a beast with that capacity requires an explanation. The serpent’s explanation makes sense, especially in light of the name of the Tree which is “Knowledge.” The serpent increased its knowledge of the world by becoming a rational creature, for then it could evaluate the world. Eve would have had to question the reality of her sense-perception for the rationality of her eating the fruit to be undermined. Even Satan, when speaking truthfully to himself, mentions that he perceives God’s commandment forbidding Adam and Eve to attain Knowledge as “reasonless” (4,516).Both reason and faith are spoken of as positive, good attributes throughout the poem, but reason is praised more often by higher (in the divine hierarchy) characters. This perpetual praise of reason reinforces its position as one of God’s commandments (although it is technically the lesser). Two angels, Raphael, and Satan (a fallen angel) praise reason as a divine virtue. Raphael advises Adam to “love / [the] attractive, human, rational,” he also personifies and localizes good, “true Love” saying “Love / hath his seat in Reason” (8,587-91). Likewise, Satan (the fallen Angel Lucifer), in marveling over the goodness of God’s latest creation, humanity, says to himself “Growth, Sense, Reason, all summ’d up in Man / what delight” (9,113). Adam too praises reason, in addition to the praise he gives it which is cited in the previous paragraph, he also attributes the experience of human happiness to reason. He tells Eve that “smiles from Reason flow” (9,239). He is saying that the happiness which humans are capable of feeling is a result of their ability to be reasonable, and derive reasonable enjoyment from that which is around them. Again, Adam’s verbal valuing of reason is quite dangerous to Eve’s correct understanding of how she should conduct herself if presented with a situation where reason and faith stand in contradiction. Moreover, speech, which is positive because it is the communication line between humans and God, and allows humans to worship God, is assumed to be the byproduct of rational, reasonable thought in the interaction between Satan in serpent form and Eve during the temptation (9,550-60). The narrator and author of Paradise Lost, Milton, who uses God as his muse, and in that way implicitly puts himself in a high position in the divine hierarchy, places “Reason” in the same category as the “Loyal, Just and Pure” (4,755). Milton also consistently capitalizes the word “Reason,” which indicates that it is good, he doesn’t capitalize words that represent bad things such as “envy” or “jealousy” (example: 4,503). He also capitalizes the word “Faith,” but that word does not come up as often which indicates that he is not emphasizing it as much. Ironically, faith is verbally valued most by Eve prior to the Fall. She is its main defender. She says that her “firm Faith” cannot be “shak’n or seduc’t” (9,286-7), and then she categorizes “Faith” with the good “Love” and “Virtue” (9,335). Eve reaffirms the commandment to be faithful in spite of the external reaffirmation of the other commandment: reason. In the end however, she chooses reason.Like Eve, Beelzebub, one of Satan’s comrades, another fallen angel, also must undergo a rational process in order to realize God’s power. He is convinced that God is “Almighty” when he, as a part of Satan’s army, loses his fight against God, since Beelzebub believes that “no less than such could have o’erpow’r’d such force” as Satan’s army (1,144-5). He needed God’s almighty power to be proven to him through questioning it reasonably with force. The ‘guilt’ of Beelzebub (and the others) though, is not dwelt on. They are simply turned out of God’s realm (heaven) for trying to overthrow his power. Being in Hell is not so much about punishment as it is just the natural consequence of their actions. Eve succumbs to the same desire to be reasonable as Beelzebub and yet her ‘guilt’ is the focal point of the Fall. In blaming Eve for the Fall by calling her ‘guilty,’ one is falling into the trap that Adam and Eve fall into in the end of book 9 where in “mutual accusation they spent fruitless hours” (9,1186-7). Attributing blame for no reason other than self-justification is fruitless. In this way, Beelzebub and Satan are better than Adam and Eve for they don’t spend time blaming each other for being expelled from heaven. Guilt is not an issue.The irony of the results of eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge is that it ends up animalizing Adam and Eve rather than raising them up to the level of Gods. Eve’s rational, reasonable choice to eat results in her losing part of her ability to be reasonable. After the Fall, a “sensual Appetite [“lust”] / usurp[ed] over sovran Reason” within Adam and Eve (9,1129-30). Eve is ‘guilty’ of losing her ‘faith’ in God by not following his seemingly irrational command to not eat from the Tree of Knowledge, and thus she is guilty of initiating the original, mortal sin, however, the word ‘guilt’ in this context is a label which endows her act with negative implications. Without the label of ‘guilt,’ Eve’s act could be understood as her attempt to best serve her God through serving Adam. In addition, on our part, as modern humans, we are wasting “fruitless hours” by marking her with the label of ‘guilt’.

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