A feminist study on the Separation Scene in Milton’s Paradise
In Million’s Paradise Lost, the idea of Fall of humankind seems to be meeting with that of Free Will, time and again. Eve’s assertion to work separately is in fact an assertion of this very free will. She believes that working separately will only lead to speeding up of their Job of gardening. But this personal awareness is labeled by critics as an act of violation for it contradicts Dam’s wishes. One only asks why Dam’s wishes are so important. Why is Eve’s decision not given the same credibility as that given to Dam’s? Eve was Dam’s “help et” (help mate).
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This is a fundamental problem. Does Eve exist only to help Adam? Is Milton trying to say that the phallus is primary? If Eve indeed was created only to help Adam, is not her position being compared to that of animals? It is assumed that Adam and Eve are already fallen’ in the Separation Scene because the inferior position that Eve holds in the hierarchy I. E. God – Adam – Eve, has already been subverted. A renowned critic, Freedoms Bowers says that Dam’s respect for Eve’s liberty, though imitating God’s for his own, is the first step in the fall.
Adam repudiates his duty and breaks the hierarchical chain of being. He allows Eve as a free agent to seek temptation because he cannot bring himself to enforce authority on her undisturbed passion and beauty… In his role as a protector, Adam had no right to relieve himself from his responsibility to Eve by making her a free agent. ” (Freedoms Bowers) Eve’s inferiority, not only in the intellectual realm but in general, is not something that can be ignored. Her classification as a human is overshadowed by her sub classification as a woman. She is the Subject whereas Adam is the Head.
She was after all created from Dam’s ribs, on his request to God. She was his to control, not vice versa. And this is exactly what critics like Arnold Stein and C. S. Lewis say when talking about the Separation Scene. They find Eve’s argument as an “aggressive assertion of her independence”. They consider Eve’s pride as a major sin in the larger scheme of events. Some other critics, following the same line of idea say that Adam was the stronger of the two. In allowing Eve to go, he became the weaker. They say that Eve should not have been given the liberty of independent thought and reason.
But I have a significant problem with this concept. To term Eve as the inferior and Adam as superior is a sexist formulation of ideas. They were not educated and thus intellectually inferior to men. Similar is the situation of Million’s Eve. She is the ’embodiment of passion’ whereas Adam is the ’embodiment of reason’. She has to turn to Adam in order to gain intellectual guidance. In fact, Eve’s knowledge of the enemy, I. E. Satan is through her interaction with Adam whereas he received a warning directly from divine machinery.
Milton is seemingly suggesting that a wife is incomplete and insufficient to stand without her husband’s support and that she takes ‘bad decisions’ when she tries to imply her own mind alone. Now, let us look at some references of Eve’s subordination from the text of Paradise Lost. For this, I will only stick to Book IX but that in no way means that there are no other references. In fact, throughout his poem, Milton has left many such references to pick on. In the Separation Scene, Adam says to Eve, “… For nothing lovelier can be mound/ In woman, than to study household good” (232-233).
Milton, making Adam his mouthpiece, is categorizing the woman’s work as domestic care while theologically deifying the man’s work. Adam repeatedly emphasizes upon Eve’s inferiority while arguing in this particular scene. First, he calls her “Daughter of God and man” (291) which literally means that she was created by god and created out of man. Then, he addresses her as “O woman” (343) further reiterating his supremacy and in turn, her subjection. Adam incessantly argues that Eve must listen to him and not vouch for ere independence. After the fall, Adam says that it is all a result of Eve’s “strange desire of wandering” (1135-1136).
In line 383, Eve says, “… A foe so proud will first the weaker seek”. Eve herself calls herself the Weaker’ of the two. It appears as if by making the woman speak such a thing, Milton is trying to Justify his anti feminist stance as the natural way to behave. Before the actual separation happens, Milton brings in a lot of Pagan ideas into the text. Again, one asks as to what these Pagan ideas are doing in an epic which is clearly Christian. He did formulate a feminist Eve who believed in making her own decisions but ended up condemning this very quality in her.
He associates her with the much castigated Pagan ideologies. He talks of the two nymphs who are mortals which might be an allusion of what is to happen. By talking about Delia, Pales and Pomona, all Milton does is emphasis on Eve’s sexual vulnerability which she is unaware of. Stella Revered, in her essay, “Eve and the Doctrine of Responsibility in Paradise Lost”, makes an interesting point when she says that if separation was indeed the event hat led to the fall, why do we not consider the separation when Raphael visited the couple on Earth?
Eve left Adam and Raphael to talk about all things ‘studious’ and went to tend to her flowers. Revered argues that Satan could have been lurking in the shadows at that point instead of the following day. But the fact that critics place responsibility of the Fall on the separation of the next day indicates towards this need to blame Eve in some way or the other. The essential problem lies in the usage of terms such as ‘allow and ‘permission’. Adam had no authority over Eve whatsoever. Rather, words such as ‘plea’ and ‘request’ should be used.
Satan would have been able to tempt Eve had Adam been there with her. I personally think this question has no right answer. It is speculative. But even if we were to believe that the separation is the original cause of the Fall, charging Eve with the onus of it all is unfair. Adam was equally responsible and not because he ‘allowed’ Eve to leave but because he failed to express his thoughts and fears properly; not because he failed as the Patriarch but because he failed as an orator.