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Heather Gerken

ENL 3230-003

Spring 2004

Paper #1

Milton’s Portrayal of Eve as Submissive and Inferior

            John Milton’s Paradise Lost is an epic detailing the creation and fall of Adam and Eve, as well as the origin and temptation of Satan.  Milton uses Genesis as a framework and details the events starting with Satan’s fall, moving to the creation of the world, Adam, and Eve, and ending with Adam and Eve being sent away from Paradise.  In Book IV, lines 440-504, Milton portrays Eve as an inferior, submissive being through dialogue and actions. 

            Milton characterizes Eve as submissive and thoughtless.  Shortly after Eve’s birth, she hears a voice which tells her to come meet Adam.  At this time, Eve knows nothing of herself, where she is, or who the voice is, yet she follows and does not ask questions.  She wonders, “what could I do, / But follow straight, invisibly thus led?” (4:475-476).  Inferiority and submission come naturally to Eve because she believes that the only normal reaction to the voice’s request is blind obedience.  By asking the rhetorical question, “what could I do,” Eve reveals that she cannot conceive of any other possible alternative, so it is apparent that she is unable to reason.  Eve did not know that the voice was God, her creator, who she owed her existence to.  The voice could have been an evil being such as Satan.  She obeys blindly without thinking or asking anything.  While reflecting on the first time she met Adam, Eve confesses that she wanted to run away, but “thy gentle hand / Seized mine, I yielded” (4:488-489).  Next, she leans on Adam with “meek surrender” (4:494), and he is delighted with her “submissive charms” (4:498).  Rather than doing what she wants to do, Eve automatically gives in to Adam without thinking about it at all. 

     Eve not only passively obeys all types of authority, she does not even ask questions or try to understand herself or her situation.  She does not make any decisions; she merely does whatever God and Adam tell her to do.  Because Eve does not think for herself or try to learn anything, she is portrayed as inferior, passive, and incapable.

            Milton continually refers to the fact that Eve was made for Adam from his own body.  This repetition stresses the importance of Eve being thankful and repaying Adam.  Eve says, “O thou for whom / And from whom I was formed flesh of thy flesh” (4:440-441).  Milton marginalizes Eve by saying that the only reason she was created was “for” Adam.  This makes Eve a possession of Adam rather than an equal and separate person.  God tells her that Adam is “he / Whose image thou art” (4:471-472).  Rather than being an individual, she is merely an image of Adam.  As soon as Eve meets Adam, he informs her that she is “His flesh, his bone” (4:483).  Eve wants to run away from him, but he tells her, “to give thee being I lent / Out of my side to thee, nearest my heart / Substantial life, to have thee by my side” (4:483-485).  Adam emphasizes his sacrifice to give Eve life, making her indebted to him.  Eve does not run away, but instead yields to Adam because she feels that she must show Adam gratitude for giving her life.  If Eve was created for Adam, then it is her duty to do as he wishes without questioning him.  By emphasizing Eve’s debt and gratitude to Adam, Milton undercuts her as an individual, lowering her status to that of a servant.  Both God and Adam continually remind Eve that it is her job to be grateful and subservient.

            Eve admits and accepts her inferior status through dialogue.  The first time in the epic that Eve speaks, she addresses Adam as “my Guide / And Head” (4:442-443), suggesting that she is incapable of leading or thinking for herself.  Eve tells Adam that she owes more praise to God than he does because she enjoys “So far the happier Lot, enjoying thee / Preeminent by so much odds, while thou / Like consort to thy self canst no where find” (4:446-448).  If Adam is “preeminent by so much odds,” and Eve is not his “like consort,” then obviously Eve is inferior to him.  The only admirable quality that Eve possesses is her beauty.  When she compares Adam to the image of herself in the water, she confesses, “methought less fair, / Less winning soft, less amiably mild, / Than that smooth watry image” (4:478-480).  She quickly learned, however, “How beauty is excelled by manly grace, / And wisdom, which alone is truly fair” (4:490-491).  Through Eve’s admission, Milton reveals that Adam not only thinks for Eve, but even her most astounding trait, beauty, is trivial when compared to Adam’s qualities of grace and wisdom. 

            Milton portrays Eve as inferior by emphasizing her submission and lack of thought, stressing her debt to God and Adam, and creating her acceptance of her situation and position through her own words.  By characterizing Eve as inferior, Milton is implying that she is not as important as Adam.  This portrayal of the “mother of [the] human race” has led to the sexist views that men are naturally superior to women (4:475).  Throughout history, people have blamed Eve for the fall of humankind, and this depiction of Eve reinforces many theories about how woman’s weaknesses and lack of reason led to the original sin and the expulsion from Paradise.  In Book IV, lines 440-504, of Paradise Lost Milton renders Eve a substandard person, emphasizing her acceptance of her inferior status.