The Creation of Sin: A Look at Paradise Lost
John Milton writes in Paradise Lost “Of Man’s first disobedience and the fruit/ of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste/ Brought death into the world” (1.1-3). He establishes the classic struggle of good and evil and shows exactly where this conflict first arose. Before the existence of Man, Satan waged a war in Heaven, where he tried to overthrow the almighty power of the Christian God. Satan, once one of the highest archangels, became jealous when God presented his only begotten Son “have anointed whom ye now behold/ At [His] right hand” (5.605-6). Satan persuaded one third of the archangels to be disloyal to God and a fruitless, meaningless war was fought for three days. The fallen angels fell for nine days through chaos, until they finally landed in Hell. God then creates “another world, the happy seat/ Of some new race called Man about this time” (2.347-8). The first beings of this new race are Adam, a man, and Eve, a woman. Eve is historically said to be the original breeder of sin through her disobedience of God. However, through textual support from Paradise Lost, it can be shown that women, as Eve, were not entirely to blame for the fall of mankind, but both sexes, men and women alike, should share equal blame for this “loss of Eden” (1.4).
The creation of Adam and Eve could prove to be a large factor in determining that both Adam and Eve are to blame for the introduction of sin into the world. Milton presents Eve’s creation story first, though, Adam’s creation was chronologically first.
Milton does much with flashbacks in Paradise Lost. The beginning of the poem starts right after the fallen angels have landed in Hell, after falling for nine days, but then flashes back to the war in Heaven in Books Five and Six. It is suggested that by doing this, John Milton is attempting, and succeeding in for that matter, to make Paradise Lost into an epic. Much like Virgil and Homer’s works, Paradise Lost starts us in the middle of a story and progresses both forward and backward in time to reach a resolving conclusion of the story and to recount events prior to the start of the epic. Milton’s putting Eve’s creation story before Adam’s is another way in which he tries to make Paradise Lost an epic. Eve is created from Adam’s rib, which was extracted by God while Adam was sleeping. This immediately presents the idea that Eve is not as close with God as Adam is. Because Adam was created from the “Dust of the ground” by God, making Adam alike in His image, Eve being created from Adam is like a carbon copy of a carbon copy (7.525). Eve’s being a duplicate of a duplicate already makes her more apt to disobedience because she is, in some sense, further from God. After her creation, Eve awakens “under a shade on flow’rs” wondering who and what she is and how she was brought about and why (4.451). Eve soon sees in a lake her reflection in all its glory. She finds herself strikingly beautiful “and [is] pined with vain desire” (4.466). Milton then exhorts that woman have a supreme beauty over that of men as Eve finds Adam and thinks he is “fair indeed, and tall,” but “less fair,/ Less winning soft, less amiably mild” than she (4. 477, 478-479). At once Eve finds herself and her image superior to that of Adam and retreats to return back to “that smooth wat’ry image” at the lake (4.480). Milton suggests that Eve’s vanity leads to her downfall. It’s a good indication that Satan, after overhearing this creation story, will use flattery and beguilement to tempt Eve. Furthermore, after overhearing Adam tell Eve not to complain about the work in their garden, but to be thankful of God, and to obey the one order that he has given them: “not to taste that only Tree/ Of Knowledge planted by the Tree of Life,” Satan wonders that if God has given them a command, they could be tempted into disobeying it (4.423-4).
Adam’s creation story is dissimilar to Eve’s because he is not shown to have any flaws or shortcomings from the start, unlike Eve and her vanity. Adam is created “in [God and the Son’s] image, Man/ in [Their] similitude” (7.519-20). He awakens in “This happy light,” while Eve had admittedly awoken in shade (8.285). Also God appears before Adam “of shape divine,” where God was a mere voice when he spoke to Eve (8.295). Adam then is given the direct order not to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge by the Son, “but of the tree/ Which tasted works knowledge of good and evil/ Though may’st not. In the day thou eat’st, thou diest” (7.543-4). All God is truly looking for is both obedience and service from humankind and his angels. He wants “One Kingdom, joy and union without end” (7.161). Immediately, Adam knows of his place in the world, whereas, Eve was confused after first awakening. Adam knows that God is more powerful than he and he is therefore below God and at His service,
To attain/ The Heighth and depth of Thy eternal ways/ All human thoughts come short/ All human thoughts come short, Supreme of things./ Thou in Thyself art perfect and in Thee/ Is no deficence found. Not so is Man. (8.412-16)
However, Eve is too consumed by her own beauty to notice the beauty of God’s creation around her. All of these differences in their creation suggest that Adam is somehow closer to both God and the Truth about their existence on the new earth and is therefore more liable to obedience and adherence to God’s commands and orders. Even Satan is able to recognize that “their sex not equal seemed:/ He for God only, she for God in him” (4.296, 299). This could be a reason as to why Satan targets Eve. He recognizes that she is most liable to fall.
Despite the fact that God made Adam higher than Eve and more likely to obey his direct orders, God creates them as a team. In her paper “The Mischief-Marking of Raphael Upon Adam and Eve in Paradise Lost,” Corinne Abate says, “Adam and Eve consider each other as inseparable, equal soul mates, brought together by God to stay that way forever” (42). Separately, neither Eve nor Adam can battle with Satan’s evil craftiness, but together, they can. They are built as a unit, “For contemplation he and valor formed,/ For softeness she and sweet attractive grace” (4.297-8). Both are part of the machine of humankind, for God knows that “it[‘s] not good for Man to be alone,” thus he erects Eve to serve as Adam’s companion, his comrade against Satan and sin (8.445). Eve is “bone of [Adam’s] bone, flesh of [his] flesh,” but is different in that she has “innocence and virgin modesty” (8.495, 501). Despite their apparent differences and inequalities, they are “one flesh [and] one heart” (8.499). Adam seems to realize that he and Eve are a “union of mind or in [them] both one soul” before Eve does (8.604). Whether Eve doesn’t understand that they are a union or understands and chooses to ignore it, Milton doesn’t make clear. Milton makes it so that it’s Adam who recognizes that they have the best chance of defeating Satan together, “on us both at once/ The enemy, though bold, will hardly dare,” but Eve is persistent on working alone (9.303-4). So despite his best intentions to stay together, Adam concedes to his wife’s request for fear of upsetting her. Here, we could justifiably blame both parties for their disconnectedness. Eve because she is so persistent to work alone, “For solitude sometimes is best society,” and Adam because he knows that he has a higher intellect and should have refused to split up, but he allows it because he is being far too obsequious to Eve, who is supposedly below him in stature and intellect (9.249).
Both Adam and Eve should be held responsible for the actual eating of The Tree of Knowledge’s fruit. Both eat it, and though their intentions are quite different, their reasons for eating the fruit are as sinful as their disobedience. Eve first gets the impression that the ambrosial fruit can make “gods of men” from the disturbing dream she had where an angel plucked one of the fruits from The Tree of Knowledge and tasted it (5.70). Really, it is Satan “squat like a toad close at the ear of [the sleeping] Eve” whispering this dream (4.800). When it gets to Satan’s actual deception and flattery of Eve, finding out that eating the Tree’s fruit can make her “A goddess among gods” won’t be quite as alarming (9.547). Eve will have had time to contemplate this dream and decide on its validity. After encountering a talking snake, Eve will surely believe in the fruit’s power and her naiveté will be at its greatest. Milton describes Eve as “our credulous mother,” meaning Eve could have just been too gullible and far too willing to be more than human (9.644). Because Eve is deliberate in her disobedience, her sin is almost preplanned and premeditated, which makes it that much worse. Eve counts on being equal to or greater than God because Satan as the serpent tells her that he is like man after eating the fruit because he can talk, so, she will surely be just like God, the next rank up in the hierarchy of the universe, “That ye should be as gods since I as Man,/ Internal Man, is but proportion meet:/ I of brute human, ye of human gods” (9.710-2). Because “Eve demonstrates an approach to the created world that is based not upon authority and reason but upon the necessity of relationships in order to complete one’s sense of self,” she deems it a necessity to make Adam eat the fruit as well (Liebert 155).
Adam’s sin lies in how his love of Eve shrouds his love of God. In book 8, Adam goes on and on about Eve, reiterating this lustful desire that she holds over him to Raphael. “Here passion first I felt,/ Commotion strange! In all enjoyments else/ Superior and unmoved, here only week/ Again the charm of beauty’s powerful glance (8.530-3). However, Raphael advises Adam to refrain from carnal touch and corporeal passion and to find a more honorable love to reflect their love of God, “By which to Heavenly love thou may’st ascend/ Not sunk in carnal pleasure” (8.592). Adam is unable to follow Raphael’s advice because when Eve tells him that she has eaten the fruit off the Tree of Knowledge, he is at once “amazed/ astonied stood and blank while horror chill/ Ran through his veins” (9.889-91). His fear of her disobedience to God is soon replaced with fear of what shall become of Eve. Adam isn’t sure if he could stand to live without her on earth. He admits that “God [could] create another Eve,” but his carnal passion is far too great for this Eve that stands before him (9.911). Adam then decides that their “state cannot be severed” and that they are “one flesh: to lose [Eve] were to lose [him]self” (9.958, 959). Adam “scrupled not to eat,/ against his better knowledge,” but he becomes too “overcome with female charm, so he “complet[es] the mortal sin” by eating the fruit (9.997-8, 999, 1003). The couple look at each other with” lascivious eyes” and find themselves feeling divinity within” (9.1014, 1010).
Adam and Eve can now be compared to two high school students unwilling to withstand peer pressure. Eve finds herself being pressured into eating the fruit by the talking snake. Satan is a powerful orator in every speech that he delivers. In his tempting of Eve, he uses an abundance of rhetorical questions. By doing this, Satan is making Eve ask herself the very same questions. When Eve begins contemplating her disobedience in her head, she too uses a plethora of rhetorical questions. Eve has, thus, internalized Satan’s language. When Eve tempts Adam into eating the fruit, she uses one rhetorical question that gurantees that she will directly disobey God. She asks him, “Hast thou no wondered, Adam, at my stay?” (9.856). At Eve’s fall, Satan was the peer guilty of pressuring another peer, but at Adam’s fall, Eve switches roles and becomes the one doing the peer pressuring. Adam finds himself unable to bear “the pain of [Eve’s] absence from [his] sight” (9.861). He decides he must eat the fruit so that if they die because of it, at least they will die together. After eating, Adam realizes the pleasure of eating the fruit and wonders why he and Eve were forced to abstain from eating it for so long. He then contemplates even more disobedience when he says, “If such pleasure be/ In things to us forbidd’n it might be wished for this one tree had been forbidden ten!” (9.1026). He wishes that God had forbidden them to eat more trees so he could feel even more of such pleasure. The apple, here, is almost seen as a drug. Eve is tempted into trying the drug, which she then tempts Adam into trying. They both receive a high from it and decide that they are “so well refreshed [that] now [they must] play” (9.225). The fruit intensifies Adam’s sin as he becomes even more lustful towards Eve, whom he finds even “fairer now” that it “inflame[s his] senses” (9.1032, 1031). Milton describes their sinful playing as “in lust they burn” (9.1015). There is nothing at all heavenly about their sex after eating the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. After the couple comes down from their drug induced high, they realize the severity of what they have done. They no longer feel the pleasure they did after first tasting the drug, the apple, but now the pleasure has worn off and they feel the depression that normally follows a high. They are embarrassed by their sinful disobedience and by their nakedness. Adam, at once, blames Eve for this “good lost, and evil got,” but Eve blames the serpent (9.1072). Milton describes new “high passions” that arise, but these passions are not good like the high pleasure they received after eating the apple. These passions are “anger, hate,/Mistrust, suspicion, discord – and shook sore/ Their inward state of mind” (9.1123-5).
Both Adam and Eve sinned greatly to eat the apple off the Tree of Knowledge. Eve, because she was created out of a disadvantage, was much more likely to be disobedient to God’s will. Because of her subservience, she finds herself wanting to be more than Adam and more than human. Adam is told directly from Raphael to find a purer love for Eve, but because of the lust he feels for Eve, he is unable to do so. Both sinned in their disobedience, and their reasons for eating the apple are just as sinful as their disobedience. Yes, Eve tempted Adam into eating it, but she cannot be directly blamed for the fall because of her tempting Adam. Adam had to consent somewhere along the way. Thus both Adam and Eve, both men and women, should share equal blame for this creation of sin on earth.
Abate, Corinne S. Ebscohost. “The Mischief-Marking of Raphael Upon Adam and Eve in
Paradise Lost.” English Language Notes 36.3 (1999): 41-54. 11 Nov 2008 <http://web.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.libraries.wright.edu:2048/ehost/pdf?vid=5&hid=17&sid=cc8582a6-6540-4509-9ee3-5731d0aeffc2%40sessionmgr8>
Liebert, Elisabeth. Ebscohost. “Rendering “More Equal”: Eve’s Changing Discourse in
Paradise Lost.” Milton Quarterly 37.3 (2003): 152-165. 10 Nov 2008 <http://web.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.libraries.wright.edu:2048/ehost/pdf?vid=4&hid=17&sid=cc8582a6-6540-4509-9ee3-5731d0aeffc2%40sessionmgr8>
Milton, John. Paradise Lost: A Norton Critical Edition, ed. Gordon Tesky. 3rd ed. New
York: Norton, 2005.