Paradise Lost

by: John Milton

Eve

As I bent down to look, just opposite A shape within the wat’ry gleam appear’d, Bending to look on me: I started back; It started back: but pleas’d I soon return’d; Pleas’d it return’d as soon; with answering looks Of sympathy and love: there I had fixt Mine eyes till now, and pin’d with vain desire[.] (IV, 460–466)

Eve recalls that when she first sees her image reflected in a body of water, she becomes fixated. She only breaks away when God calls to her. The scenario reveals Eve’s developing consciousness, but the desire to continue to stare at her own reflection foreshadows the temptation of vanity in her newly blossoming self-awareness.

I yielded; and from that time see How beauty is excell’d by manly grace, And wisdom, which alone is truly fair. (IV, 489–491)

Even though Eve feels tempted by her own image in the lake, she remains pure by calling herself back to higher spiritual values. Despite such a selfless and deep sentiment, Eve reveals that she possesses a weakness for being led by vanity, which foreshadows her fall from grace later on.

Adam; well may we labour still to dress This garden, still we tend plant, herb, and flower, Our pleasant task enjoin’d, but till more hands Aid us, the work under our labour grows, Luxurious by restraint; what we by day Lop overgrown, or prune, or prop, or bind, One night or two with wanton growth derides, Tending to wild. Thou therefore now advise Or hear what to my mind first thoughts present, Let us divide our labours[.] (IX, 205–214)

Considering the enormous amount of work she and Adam have to do in the garden, Eve suggests that they separate and divide their labors to lessen their work. Normally subservient to Adam, in this instance Eve takes the dominant role. Notably, when Eve thinks and acts independently from Adam, they both are led to transgression, which suggests that women should not be trusted to lead.

Thoughts, which how found they harbor in thy breast, Adam, misthought of her to thee so dear? (IX, 288–289)

When Eve suggest that she and Adam separate to divide their work, Adam hesitates to agree. Adam knows danger lurks in the garden, and he worries that Eve might fall victim. Here, Eve plays on Adam’s trust in her, suggesting he thinks less of her than he should. Adam responds in kind, by professing his faith in her purity. Through this exchange, the reader recognizes the power Eve has over Adam’s emotions.

Language of Man pronounced By tongue of brute, and human sense expressed? The first at least of these I thought denied To beasts whom God on their creation-day Created mute to all articulate sound (IX, 553–557)

Eve expresses the confusion she feels when she first meets Satan disguised as a serpent. She wonders how the animal can speak since she knows God has not given animals the gift of speech or sense. The fact that the serpent can speak intrigues Eve and contributes to her decision to taste the fruit. Eve becomes tempted by the power the fruit seems to give to the animal, and this curiosity leads to her downfall.

Serpent, thy overpraising leaves in doubt The virtue of that fruit, in thee first prov’d: But say, where grows the tree, and from hence how far? (IX, 615–617)

Eve asks the serpent, Satan, to take her to the tree that gave the serpent the power to speak. She knows enough to suspect the serpent’s sly words, but in the end, her curiosity drives her to seek out the tree of knowledge. She feels compelled to understand such a power better. Eve, weakened by Satan’s flattery, seals her fate in a vain attempt to know the powers of the tree.

Here grows the cure of all, this fruit divine. Fair to the eye, inviting to the taste, Of virtue to make wise: what hinders then To reach, and feed at once both body and mind? (IX, 776–769)

Standing in front of the tree of knowledge, Eve rationalizes that there can be nothing wrong in eating the fruit, even going so far as to call the fruit virtuous, since its flesh will make her wise. After looking at the fruit, Eve becomes completely seduced by the serpent. She reasons that nothing should stop her from feeding her body and mind with wisdom. Eve succumbs to the desire to know all.

[B]ut I feel Far otherwise th’event, not death but life Augmented, open’d eyes, new hopes, new joys, Taste so divine, that what of sweet before Hath touch’d my sense, flat seems to this, and harsh. (IX, 983–987)

Right after Eve tastes the fruit, she explains her new level of consciousness. Her eyes have been “opened” and she sees things with a startling clarity. Under the rush of knowledge, Eve’s language portrays a sensuous delight in her new state. The scene reveals how knowledge enhances her senses to a fevered pitch. With her senses amplified, Eve’s dependence on reason will diminish.

O unexpected stroke, worse than death! Must I thus leave thee, Paradise? Thus leave Thee, native soil! (XI, 268–270)

Throughout Paradise Lost, Eve consistently reveals herself to be more emotional than Adam. After the Son comes to lead her and Adam out of Paradise, Eve breaks down in despair and declares she doesn’t want to leave. Adam must help her balance. In their marriage, Adam restores Eve’s loss of emotional control and thus restores her reason and calm.

[T]hough all by me is lost, Such favour I unworthy am vouchsaf’d, By me the promis’d Seed shall all restore. (XII, 621–623)

Eve, in her perfect sorrow, finally fully admits her culpability for her and Adam’s fall. Eve also knows, however, that by her repentance, the promise of humankind will be restored. Eve will be the mother of humankind. In this way, Eve, who caused the fall of humankind, in turn transitions into the providential role of universal wife and mother.