John Milton’s Description of Wrong Doing and Retribution with References to Adam and Eve as Described in His Book, Paradise Lost

January 12, 2021 by Essay Writer

The story of Adam and Eve is one of, if not the earliest tale of crime and punishment in the West. John Milton’s Paradise Lost retells the age-old fable, adding depth and emotion to the story, consequently revealing the very important, sometimes overlooked implications of the legends outcome. Eve, having dreamt the prophetic dream of the fall of mankind in Book V, is created to be read as the character to blame for the tragic loss of Paradise. While God gives both Adam and Eve the capacity to exercise agency, Eve is the only one who encounters an opportunity to do so, and is therefore set up to be the “original” sinner. The punishment Eve faces for eating the fruit reveals the unfortunate consequences of acting upon freewill—especially when it directly opposes God’s word—as well as raises a question about how “free” her actions truly were.

Adam and Eve’s punishment is explained in Genesis, and while they are both subjected to consequences for exercising freewill and eating the fruit, the penance Eve must pay is far worse than Adam’s—regardless of the fact that they committed the same act of disobedience. This reveals a frame of logic that implicitly sets Eve up to be the one to blame for the fall in Paradise Lost. After the loss of paradise occurs, Genesis states that God revisits the couple and outlines the fates of both Adam and Eve proclaiming,

Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and they conception, in sorrow though shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. And unto Adam he said, Because though has hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Though shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt though eat of it all the days of thy life (3.16-17).

This passage unveils the subconscious workings of the story’s core. Not only is Adam punished solely for listening to his wife, his long-term consequence is that he must eat from cursed ground. Eve, by stark contrast, has not only herself, but also all women to come, punished and ordered into a position of overtly lesser importance in relation to her husband. This severe punishment doled out unequally and thusly unfairly sets the stage for Milton’s story. Eve is written in Paradise Lost to be the one to begin the fall—having the dream—and therefore, the one created to take all the blame. Freewill most certainly exists in Eden, but having God punish Eve, as well as all women to come, into a life of eternal subordination to her husband sounds an alarm to the reader—if Adam eats the apple too, committing the same ‘deviant’ act as Eve, why is he not punished in the same manner and to the same degree? Eve is the character in Genesis that feels the most from defying God, even though the two were equally at fault, creating a pattern of blame that seeps into Milton’s story. There, Eve’s “freewill” is masquerading as such, but given the outcome of her actions, it is clear that she was written to be the scapegoat all along, calling into question her ability to actually act freely.

Adam and Eve live their first days in paradise in utter bliss—never fearing, never hurting, never experiencing any emotion other than joy and appreciation—until the night Eve dreams the terribly frightening dream of succumbing to Satan’s manipulative ways, marking the first negative experience of paradise and the beginning of the fall. Adam wakes Eve up so they can begin their day of gardening and working, and is surprised to see Eve tossing and turning in her sleep. Upon her awakening, Eve explains the cause of her distress, “Such night till this I…/Have dream’d,/If dream’d, not as I oft am wont, of thee,/Works of day past, or morrow’s next design,/But of offence and trouble, which my mind/Knew never till this irksome night” (5.30-34). In the paradise God places Adam and Eve within, the preserving of innocence and goodness is vital to sustaining the purity of the world, making this moment where Eve recognizes the first negative thoughts ever to be entertained crucial in marking the moment where the slow decline of paradise begins. This is the moment where Eden stops being paradise, and it all begins with Eve. While Satan is the one to offer Eve the fruit, tempting and manipulating her into taking a bite, she is the one who has the premonition before the situation ever presents itself. The narrator explains that Satan is drawn to Eve because of her vulnerability, but perhaps he is drawn to her not because of her assumed naivety, but because something about her being the one, rather than Adam, to break Paradise’s bubble of perfection attracted him to her. Had both Adam and Eve had the dream, the outcome may have been different, but the important choice Milton made for Eve to be the one to have the dream and then subsequently be the only one harshly blamed for that choice, as shown in Genesis, demonstrations an un-ignorable line of thinking that inevitably results in Eve becoming the “original” sinner.

Eve’s punishment for taking a bite of the forbidden apple reveals the fundamental moral of the story; freewill is not admirable or acceptable if it disobeys God. Eve’s dream comes to fruition when one day, Adam and Eve decide to split up and work independently in the garden to be able to get more done faster. This is when Satan, disguised in the garden as a snake perched on the Tree of Knowledge, approaches Eve for the first time. He explains the magic that lives within the fruit, tells her that with it comes wisdom and goodness, and for that reason, she should disobey God’s word and act on her own accord—in other words, eat the fruit. So she does, and Adam follows suit soon after, neither of them realizing that God sees all. He is watching. God explains that He, “Hinder’d not Satan to attempt the minde/Of Man, with strength entire, and free will arm’d,/Complete to have discover’d and repulst/Whatever wiles of Foe or seeming Friend” (10. 8-11). God’s vision of the concept free will, as Milton has written it, is complicated. While he allows them both the ability to make their own choices, He does not exempt or allow them to perform “free” actions that directly oppose Him. Freewill, then, becomes less of a gift God grants the protagonists with, and more of an expectation that freedom of choice shall always reflect the wishes and commands of God instead. To what extent, then, did either of them really stand a chance against Satan? This quote and its implications forces the audience to determine how free actions can truly be if they are constantly judged and subsequently punished if deemed oppositional by a force as powerful as God.

If it is assumed, as it is in Paradise Lost, that everything happens for a reason, and that all events and actions are a part of God’s greater plan, then we must also assume that Eve’s choice to eat the apple follows that same logic; It is no accident that Eve is the one to have the dream long before the fall actually happens, no accident that she is the one that Satan lures to eat the fruit, and no accident that she faces a punishment far greater than Adam’s. How much of a free choice, then, was Eve’s engagement with the serpent if God’s plan controls fate? Paradise Lost follows in the footsteps of Genesis’s main societally relevant lesson in the Adam and Eve tale—to hold women far more accountable for choices they make than men, and to rebuke them for engaging in behaviors that can result in any potential power for them. The question of freewill becomes problematic when placed in conversation with the Paradise that Milton writes because it becomes hard to imagine that there truly is any. Genesis sets the stage, using Eve as the scapegoat for the disobedient actions, and Paradise Lost follows suit. The dream Milton writes for Eve to have, and the choice Eve makes to eat the fruit, while both relatively miniscule when looked at largely and generally, are subtle lessons outlining what happens when women choose to challenge the master narrative they are told. In this legend, God sets Eve’s limitations, and her acts of noncompliance, whether genuinely free or not, establish Eve to be, above all else, the “original” sinner.

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