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Eve: A Weak Vessel or the Epitome of Strength?


By Madeline White

The controversial topic of women’s place in society is most exemplified from the

very beginning of time. From a religious perspective, the book of Genesis reveals women

to be the fall of humanity and the loss of innocence between man and God. From a

political view, alike the religious view, women are weak vessels, and a burden to history

despite their ability to nurture, bear children, and later hold monarchial positions as

portrayed by the views of John Milton. Specifically in Milton’s Paradise Lost, his

attempt to rewrite the Bible and overthrow the monarchy of England further establish his

political and religious views towards women. As he constructs the words “He for God

only, she for God in him,” (Milton, IV. 296-299), Milton’s underlying theme of Paradise

Lost becomes gender inequality and a pyramid of status is established as he compares

men to women and God to the monarchy of England. While Milton intended to disrupt

political beliefs against the monarchy, he confirmed societies belief in the degradation of

women as he kept Eve below man. On the contrary, scholars such as Patrick J. McGrath

and David Mikics disagree that Eve is inferior to Adam.  Based on Eve’s last speech and

her willingness to challenge God and his power, Eve and women are made out to be

equal or above men, even as Milton did not intend for Paradise Lost to expose this.

From the view of Christians and their teachings, men and women are created in

the image of God’s divine grace. However, Milton, along with many other writers,

philosophers, and religious teachers seem to disregard the original grace of God and his

creation.

As seen in both the Bible and Paradise Lost, Eve is fully created out of Adam’s

rib, and from the beginning of time, portrayed in Genesis; woman is beneath man

politically and socially. This is a symbol emphasizing the strong nature of man, and the

belittlement of woman. God emphasizes man in the Bible as Milton reemphasizes the

importance of man in Paradise Lost when he explains, “ . . . though both not equal, as

thir sex not equal seem’d; for contemplation he and valor form’d, for softness she and

sweet attractive Grace, he for God only, she for God in him.” (IV.295–299).

Contradictory to Milton, Patrick J. McGrath is proud to defend women on the basis of

social, political, and religious structures. In fact, McGrath’s argument stems from Eve’s

closing speech in Book X of Paradise Lost. According to McGrath, Eve’s speech

contains allusions that question her existence, and enters a speech that portrays intellect,

morality, and dynamic thoughtfulness that question societies inferiority towards Eve and

women. As Eve speaks to Adam in the Garden of Eden, she depicts, “May tempt it, I

expected not to hear. His violence thou fear’st not, being such, as wee, not capable of

death or pain, can either not receave, or can repel. His fraud is then thy fear, which

plain infers thy equal fear that my firm Faith and Love can by his fraud

be shaken or seduc’t.” (IX 281-287). As Eve contemplates her role as a woman and what

the Tree of Knowledge has done to her, readers are reminded that Eve was not the only

human who disobeyed Gods word, but was the first person to challenge God along with

many more challengers to come. Adam too, disregarded Gods wishes and followed Eve.

This itself portrays Eve as the instigator, which seems as if it’s a crime or poor judgment,

but in regards to McGrath’s argument, Eve is the woman who defied Gods power.

Milton continuously degrades Eve’s character throughout Paradise Lost trying to

portray her as a dangerous nature and easily taken advantage of. Milton emphasizes Eve’s

character when he writes, “Greedily she engorged without restraint, and knew not eating

death.” (IX, 791-792).

However, along with McGrath, writer, David Mikics, views Eve

as a “human that resists history.” Mikics explains the role of women in society and in

marriage is extremely important. Without women, the world and its people would be

entirely different, he explains, “I see Milton’s project as anti-historical: as one that gives

us, in the poetic character of Eve and her relation to Adam, a way of challenging the

realm of social history and politics.” (Mikics). Mikics uses Eve’s dream as the basis of

his argument explaining that Eve has a “bold susceptibility to experience” as she

encountered the devil at the Tree of Knowledge. This dream is a symbol of Eve’s ability

to think as a woman, use judgment, and be free from man’s rule. Even though some may

argue that Eve made a mistake, McGrath and Mikics believe it set Eve, as well as the

history of women, free from men’s rule.  In regards to social structure and roles of

women, Milton has a traditional view as to what women should attest to, considering he

was raised in the 1600s.  Milton even went as far as reducing the character of Eve and her

historical significance by giving her roles of “begging” Adam to stay with her and acting

submissive in his presence. However, Mikics envisions Eve and embodies her as a

woman of later eras, as Milton was a man of his era. Mikics explains the distortion of Eve

in Paradise Lost because Milton purposely portrayed her as an obedient, unaware, and

insignificant human being. In his attempt to recreate the Bible, Milton did not do much to

change it when it came to gender roles and status. Moreover, Milton significantly kept the

gender roles the same as the original Bible due to his views of male dominance and love

patriarchal preeminence. In other words, aside from Milton’s attempt to overthrow the

monarchy of England by writing Paradise Lost, he constructed his beliefs in gender

equality, leaving men superior women, and leaving scholars and readers to oppose his

beliefs.

Although Milton intended for Paradise Lost to portray male dominance, scholars

such as Patrick McGrath and David Mikics unearthed the true meaning of Milton’s

Paradise Lost. The construction of gender roles and the true hierarchy of genders do not

belong in favor of man. In reality, Eve portrays the beginning of gender equality and

basis of women’s roles in society politically, and socially. Although Milton built his story

on the emphasis and rulings of man, he also emphasized the role of women discreetly

when he wrote about Eve’s last speech and her confrontation with the devil, a pure

example of women’s ability to challenge power.


Works Cited


McGrath, Patrick J. Wiley Online Library. John Wiley & Sons Ltd,

17 May 2013. Web.  26 Oct. 2014.

Mikics, David. “Miltonic marriage and the challenge to history in Paradise Lost.” Texas

Studies in Literature and Language 46.1 (2004): 20+. Literature Resource Center. Web.

3 Nov. 2014.

Luxon, Thomas H., ed. The Milton Reading Room,

http://www.dartmouth.edu/~milton, March, 2015.






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