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    Eve’s character development in Milton’s Paradise Lost

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    Milton’s Paradise Lost has been praised since its edition as being the greatest English epic of all time, most stunningly in its author"s realistic depiction of the fabled parents of humanity, Adam and Eve. How Milton chose to portray the original mother and father has been a focus of much criticism- especially with contemporary readers. One of the main subjects of these comments is in reference to Eve, who, according to many, is a trivial character that is rather naïve, juvenile, and most definitely inferior to her mate.

    Nonetheless, which many do not recognize is that, surprisingly, after the fateful Fall, she becomes a much more evolved character. When Eve is introduced to the storyline of the epic, her character is shallow and extremely undeveloped, meant simply for display. She is quite firmly set as being inferior to her mate as a female in a predominantly male world. However, upon her decision to eat the apple from the Tree of Knowledge, her change is dramatic and she is no longer the simple character seriously lacking in depth of intellect or knowledge.

    Thus, as portrayed by Milton, the Fall of the parents of humanity is, in fact, an educational and developing process for Eve. Immediately upon the introduction of Eve to the epic she is clearly portrayed as being slightly dimwitted and unsophisticated, and seems to simply exist for the exhibition of her beauty and grace. She is shown as being desirable and extremely beautiful to look upon, as Milton often describes her beauty. Actually, the first time that Eve sees Adam she flees from him in fear, as he was not as beautiful as the image that she saw of herself in a pool of water.

    In fact, she was so infatuated with the image of herself that she would have remained had God not taken her away to meet her mate: “Pleas’d it return’d as soon with answering looks/ Of sympathy and love, there I fixt/ Mine eyes till now, and pin’d with vain desire…” IV, 464-466. Milton discusses the scene through Eve and she is the one who describes what goes on. He does this because the scene happens in the past and therefore he uses her to discuss it rather than confusing the reader with a flashback type scene.

    He also has Eve relate what happened to prove that Eve must indeed be beautiful if she herself was taken by her looks as she discusses how she “pined with vain desire” IV, 466 for the image of her reflection. In fact, Eve’s beauty is discussed repeatedly. For example, when Satan first sees the human couple, he is overtaken by Eve’s “beauty and submissive charms” IV, 498. Milton even goes so far to stress her beauty and charms as to have her stun Satan himself with it. Actually, as Satan is on his mission to seduce Eve into eating the apple, her beauty overtakes him.

    If chance with nymphlike step fair virgin pass, What pleasing seemed, for her now pleases more, She most, and in her looks sums all delight; Such pleasure took the Serpent to behold This flowery plant, the sweet recess of Eve Thus early, thus alone; her heavenly form Angelic, but more soft and feminine, Her graceful innocence, her every air Of gesture or least action, overawed His malice, and with rapine sweet bereaved His fierceness of the fierce intent it brought. That space the Evil One abstracted stood From his own evil, and for the time remained Stupidly good, of enmity disarmed, Of guile, of hate, of envy, of revenge.

    IX, 452-466 Thus Milton creates an Eve that is so lovely that even the antagonist of the story temporarily forgets his cause to corrupt her upon sight of such beauty. She is called “nymphlike” and this is most definitely not the first time that Milton uses allusions to Greek and Roman mythology in the poem- such as calling her a “wood-nymph light,/ Oread or Dryad, or Delia’s self…” IX, 386-387. At the time that the epic was written such stories were familiar to the average reader so a description of Eve alluding to these figures would create a very clear image of Eve in the mind of the reader of the time that the epic was written.

    Milton even stresses the irony of the entire situation by specifically naming Satan as the Evil One which strengthens the fact that the ultimate evil presence is for a moment, not so evil, just by looking at a woman so beautiful that he forgets his purpose- ironically making him in this seem more human. Adam, too, despite the fact that he spends every waking moment with her and sees her constantly, still is overtaken by her beauty and is loathe to part with her.

    Even while she convinces him to allow for the two of them to part in order for a more efficient work scheme, “he long with ardent looks his eyes pursued/ Delighted, but desiring more her stay IX, 397-398. The majority of the description of Eve, however, is not through any character but rather through Milton with the parts whereupon he relates her to a nymph and Dryad as examples of his narrative description of her beauty. In fact, other than as titles given by other characters, mostly Adam, such as “fairest of Creations” IX, 896, there is little description to the reader, or even indication that she is indeed beautiful.

    The two greatest exceptions to this statement are from Raphael and Satan. Satan does compliment her beauty extravagantly with phrases such as “Fairest resemblance of thy Maker fair,/ Thee all things living gaze on, all things thine/ By gift, and thy Celestial Beauty adore/ With ravishment beheld…” IX, 538-541. Yet the fact that he, even self-admittedly, is using any method possible to seduce her into eating the apple including flattery makes these words have not a great impact onto the reader in terms of understanding and believing in her great beauty.

    However, Raphael very poetically describes her beauty with great eloquence as he is discussing the creation of Eve from Adam’s rib, the last part of his long story within the epic, which Milton uses in order to provide the reader with a background to the story without the need of starting the epic from before the fall of Satan himself. Upon describing the birth of Eve, he calls her “Manlike, but different sex, so lovely fair, / that what seem’d fair in all the World, seem’d now/ Mean, or in her summ’d up, in her contain’d…into all things from her air inspir’d/ the spirit of love and amorous delight.

    VIII, 471-485. Not only does this quite clearly suggest that the only purpose of Eve is for her looks and “amorous delights” but establishes her beauty as undeniable. Until this point, as mentioned, it is Milton that describes her. As the narrator and thus the objective voice, the reader takes what he mentions as fact. When he describes her elaborately, for example by saying a phrase such as “She as a veil down to the slender waist/ Her unadorned golden tresses wore/ Dishevell’d, but in wonton ringlets wav’d…” IV, 304-306 the undeniable picture of her is drawn in the reader’s mind.

    Milton confirms her beauty to his narrative references by the characters’ descriptions of her beauty with Rapael’s as the most powerful as well as the pool’s refection scene to substantiate her beauty. Thus, Milton quite clearly portrays Eve as being a character initially meant simply for display and to perform womanly duties at best. For, quite obviously, she is not initially meant to be superior or even equal to Adam as it is a male society that she lives in. Generally Eve is lower than Adam in intelligence, in overall importance, in the hierarchy of life, and in her closeness to God.

    Milton shows her to be “for God in [Adam]” IV, 299 and to be ruled over by him. In fact, Milton goes so far as to claim that if Adam had, in fact, done his duty and ruled over his mate, the Fall of Man would have never occurred . It is a masculine world that she lives in with all of the intelligent beings structured as being male. For, God is male, as are all of the angels. The fact that Milton describes a “paternal rule” XII, 24 and a “fraternal state” XII, 26 is, to be sure, an illustration of the concept of the world. There is a definite link between intelligence and thus knowledge to superiority.

    If all of the characters are analyzed, it can be confirmed that, starting with God who obviously has the greatest amount of knowledge and intelligence, down to the animals, who have the least of such, the more of intelligence and knowledge that a character has, the more superior they are to those without. Milton clearly portrays God as the epitome of knowledge and by far the most superior as, first, God is the ultimate Creator. Another example of God’s great wisdom is in the reflection scene with Eve, which is saturated with hidden meaning.

    As she admits, she would have remained staring at her own reflection had God not pulled her away. This scene was meant by Milton to show that while Eve’s beauty is potent enough to keep her at the pool, God’s wisdom is great to an extent that if we follow him we will realize that wisdom and thus knowledge and intellect is superior to beauty – which can be connected to Adam and Eve’s case, proving for him to be the superior of the two. Milton clearly translates his own personal philosophies into his epic by these points.

    Hence, as Eve has less intellect than Adam- “Not equal, as their sex seem’d;/ For contemplation he and valour form’d, / For softness se and sweet attractive Grace…. ” IV, 296-298- she is consequently inferior to him. Especially since having eaten the apple from the Tree of Knowledge, Eve, while pondering what to do about the situation that she finds herself in, admits that if she is “dieted by [the apple she will] grow mature/ In knowledge, as the Gods who all things know…” IX, 803-804 which proves that will a gain in knowledge and intellect, one becomes more superior.

    Perhaps the best illustration of the relation of Eve and Adam in the matter of superiority is upon returning to their initial meeting where she runs away, and, after being called back, they both come to the conclusion that while she is more beautiful, he is superior in that he has “manly grace and wisdom, which alone is truly fair” IV, 490-491. The fact that this grace and wisdom is explicitly described as being “manly” says a great deal to the conception of who is superior.

    While the two make it very clear that she is representative of beauty in this phrase, and since he is male and therefore “manly”, she has none of this wisdom and is therefore simply beautiful with little to no intelligence. In addition to the notion of intelligence having to do with superiority, it cannot be ignored that when Raphael comes to educate the humans about the history of Satan and his story, the contrast that Milton chooses to make between Adam and Eve in this subject is apparent.

    Eve, during the duration of the story, sits to listens yet as Adam speaks, “and by his countenance seemed/ Entering on studious thoughts abstruse; which Eve/ Perceiving, where she sat retired in sight,/ With lowliness majestic from her seat/ And grace that won those who saw her wish her stay,/ Rose, and went forth among her fruits and flowers…” VIII, 39-44. Her majesty, first off, is described as being “lowly,” obviously in comparison to Adam’s. Yet, when the first sign of conversation requiring a degree of thought and intelligence arrives, she chooses to ramble off rather than take part in it.

    Milton, by describing this scene, clearly portrays her as not having the interest in matters that require thought as well as not having the thought required to participate. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the fable that relates to this subject is also why Satan chooses Eve rather than Adam to seduce. While it can simply be put off to the fact that he is stronger and larger, this cannot be all, as Satan is not planning to do battle with the humans, as this would not set them against God- but rather to seduce them into evil.

    Another possible reason is that she is not as intelligent as Adam and would thus fall for the ruse with far more ease and while this may in all actuality be true it cannot be the only reason for an ancient and extremely wise creature is being discussed and to say that he cannot outsmart a simple, young, and naïve human is extraordinarily insulting to him and to God and the angles in general. Perhaps what is the reason is that Satan realizes that she is the inferior of the two and he quite effectively plays off of this role.

    By hinting that if he, a mere snake, suddenly becomes highly intelligent and thus more superior by eating the apple from the Tree if Knowledge, then thus will she too become more superior. Perhaps it is this thought in her mind that causes for her to finally take that first fateful bite. Strengthening this point is that Eve, while pondering if she would share the fruits of the Tree of Knowledge with Adam and all that she has gained from, admits her inferiority and her apparent dissatisfaction. …so to add what wants In Female Sex, the more to draw his Love, And render me more equal, and perhaps, A thing not undesirable, sometime Superior; for inferior who is free? ” IX, 821-825 Never before has in the epic has Eve been alone, and as soliloquies as this speech apparently is since she believes that there in no one listening to her have not subtext since there is no reason for her to hide her true feelings, it is not only possible but right to say that she completely recognizes her inferiority and is bitter concerning it.

    There is the argument comparing the two saying that it is unfair to compare their equality or otherwise as both are perfect within their respective genders. This argument is worthless, however, because as shown, not only is Adam himself clearly shown as being the dominant of the two but also because his maleness immediately makes him the superior. It is in these aspects that he is the superior- not the two generally conceived notions that it is because he was born first and she out of him.

    For, if this is so then Lucifer is superior to Jesus and the animals to Adam and also Adam because of the manner of Eve’s birth is incomplete while she is whole. In all truth, there seems little more description of Eve than her beauty and grace. Perhaps the only significant title given to her is “Mother of Mankind” V, 288 by Raphael, rather clearly implying that perhaps the only helpful trait about her is her ability to “fill the world more numerous with her sons” V, 299.

    The only exception to this is, of course, by Satan who does compliment her extravagantly with words such as “Empress of this fair World” IX, 568 or “A Goddess among Gods” IX, 547. Still, as mentioned, these are taken simply as sycophancies and nothing more by the reader not changing the view of her inferiority. Eve shows a bit of independence it is true, for example when, upon the sight of Raphael, Adam tells her to produce an excess of food and she contradicts him and tells him that a little is sufficient but all that this proves in that she knows her way around the kitchen which is a role that does not seem to need intelligence to fill.

    Despite this, she is more self-reliant that her counterpart Adam which is portrayed when she convinces him to separate for the sake of the benefit to their gardening in that as they split, more work can be achieved, while he does not want to leave her. Yet much can be said for her personality as the reason why Adam does not want to separate from her is because he knows that Satan is out in Eden and he does not think that she has the ability to resist him if he approaches her. More can be said in addition to this, as, despite Adam’s warnings, she is still seduced.

    Still, despite these obvious, and in some cases, blatant references to Eve as being lowly and trivial compared to her husband, Milton somehow manages to change this For it is after Eve decides to eat the apple from the Tree of Knowledge does she truly evolve into a character far more complex and superior than the previous one. After she eats the apple, by the time she finds Adam it is extremely apparent that her mind set is undeniably different. Her mind set is more developed and she is actively thinking through her situation, which, obviously, she previously failed to do. “…But to Adam in what sort Shall I appear?

    Shall I to him make known As yet my change, and have him to partake Full happiness with me, or rather not, But keep the odds of knowledge in my power Without co-partner? so to add what want In the female sex, the more to draw and render me more equal, and perhaps, A thing not undesirable, sometime Superior- fro, inferior, who is free? This may be well; but what if God have seen, And death ensue? Then I shall be no more, And Adam, wedded to another Eve, Shall live with her enjoying, I extinct- A death to think. ” IX, 816-830 No longer does Eve think in terms of her and Adam and their mutual benefit but rather for her own benefit.

    She is now also intelligently going through all possible circumstances and fully realizes her own previous inferiority and the suppression of it “For, inferior, who is free? ” IX, 825 and her present superiority. As mentioned, as Eve soliloquizes after having eaten the apple and muses over whether or not to share the apple she realizes her inferiority. As she has never soliloquized before, it is difficult for the assumption to be made that she has never been bitter about his fact. Yet she has never seemed bitter about the fact previous to this occasion and almost seemed to revel in Adam’s dominance over her.

    For example she claimed that ” without [Adam she is] to no end, [her] Guide/ And [Head]” IV, 442-443 and in many occasions Milton describes her to “yield” and once to be in “meek surrender” IV, 494, for example. Another illustration of her newfound superiority is after Adam and Eve have both Fallen, and the two are within a state of conflict between one another as they both blame the other for their strife. After sharing carnal pleasures they hide themselves in shame of their sinful actions and then turn on one another with painfully true accusations.

    Adam claims had Eve “hearkened to [his] words, and stayed/ With [him], as [he] besought [her]…. [They] had then/ Remained still happy, not, as now, despoiled/ Of all our good, shamed, naked, miserable. ” IX, 1134-11339. In response, Eve says: “”hadst [Adam] been there Or here the attempt, [he] couldst not have discerned Fraud in the Serpent, speaking as he spake… Was [she] to never parted from [his] side? As good have grown there still, a lifeless rib. Being as [he is], why didst not [he], the head, Command [her] absolutely not to go, Going into such danger, as [he]saidst?

    Too facile then, [he] didst not much gainsay, Nay, didst permit, approve, and fair dismiss. Hadst [he] been firm and fixed in [his] dissent, Neither had [she] transgressed, nor [him] with me. ” IX, 1149-1161. This speech is extremely significant also in that she is for the first time contradicting Adam rather than humbly complying with his wishes. For, even though she contradicts him with the “food scene” she still does, at least, generally what he asks and her contradiction is more of a correction rather than a the rude contradiction that this statement is.

    She is no longer acting according to his wishes with the sole purpose of pleasing him but rather is proving her independence and individuality. Yet, neither is willing to take on any of the blame or is “self-condemning” IX, 1188- Eve for allowing herself to be enticed by Satan and Adam for allowing himself to be enticed by Eve. Yet, for the first time after the Fall, Adam is forcing his dominance onto her. Previously, only Milton and only subtly mentioned her “lowliness” and never Adam.

    Now, though, he becomes petty and insulting and makes it clear that he is the dominant: “…. Thus it shall befall/ Him who to worth in Women overtrusting/ Lets her Will rule…” X, 1181-1184. It is Eve, however that initiated the mutual peace and causes for the two to push back their problems and to repent. She courageously approaches Adam and continues to plead her case despite his misogynist title of “thou serpent” X, 867 upon Eve and telling her to leave him. Still, with humility born out of the love that she feels for him begs his forgiveness for what she had done. Not so repulsed, with tears that ceas’d not flowing, / And tresses all disorder’d, at his feet/ Fell humble, and embracing them, besought/ his peace…” X, 910-913. Thus does she manage to bring peace between her and her spouse, remain humble in her taking of the blame and in the face of his cruel rebuffs, sacrifice herself in that repentance, and yet remain equal to Adam as they leave hand-in hand as they were in the beginning but were not “…from her Husband’s hand her hand/ Soft she withdrew…” IX, 385-386 for a point in time when she went to the Tree.

    Through all of this, Milton manages also to make Eve the more courageous of the two. For it is Eve who confronts Adam from whom she has every reason to anticipate an insult, and also takes the blame. She is also brave in her proposal of killing themselves in repentance. Obviously, however, the idea is not used as Adam comes up with another plan. Milton gives her what is arguably the greatest victory within Paradise Lost, of obtaining the path to harmony, as well as the path to the continuation of the human race.

    Thus, while Eve is obviously portrayed as being the weaker before the Fall, she becomes the stronger after and uses the situation to her advantage to help rectify the situation while Adam is too busy dwelling in aggravated self pity. Thus she is courageous in her confrontation of Adam and starting an entirely new relationship with. If it was truly Adam who was the superior being, then Milton would have managed to at least not made him seem so bitter and petty as she sweetly and humbly initiated the peacemaking.

    Consequently, this is the first and last time that Adam manages to tear himself away from his wife. Thus Milton quite clearly creates the Fall of Man as an evolutionary process for Eve. Upon the introduction of Eve to the actual moment that she eats the apple she is clearly portrayed as being a figurehead to God, the angels, and especially Adam yet her intelligence is clearly lacking. Yet this seems to fit in the world that she lives in, as it is a clearly male superior world.

    Milton creates a dramatic evolutionary change in Eve as after she eats the apple from the Tree of Knowledge, her personality and overall role is that of a far more developed character’s. Therefore, Milton within Paradise Lost creates a scene that is historically portrayed as being completely negative, the Fall of Man, as, in the end, being at least partly positive in that one of the main characters and causes of the entire episode, benefits by evolving into a character with far more overall development and purpose- thus allowing for the human race to at least in some way be the victor.

    This essay was written by a fellow student. You may use it as a guide or sample for writing your own paper, but remember to cite it correctly. Don’t submit it as your own as it will be considered plagiarism.

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    Eve’s character development in Milton’s Paradise Lost. (2018, Apr 29). Retrieved from

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