Research Proposal: Milton's Paradise Lost and Feminism

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Milton's Paradise Lost And Feminism

The fall of mankind was always interpreted from a religious perspective as the terrible moment which marked the complete separation of man from his Creator and the beginning of mortality, with all its challenges and unfortunate events, for mankind. The Fall also marks the break with innocence, the unnatural and undesired adoption of freedom. It would take Jesus's sacrifice on the cross for mankind and God to be reunited and for God to love his creation once again. In religious terms, there was always one character who was to blame for this above all: Eve.

Indeed, it is always surprising how it is Eve who is the most to blame in the story. It was not the snake, most likely because there was a certain expectation of evil from his part and, in fact, God had already warned tacitly the inhabitants of the Garden of Eden that they might be tempted into committing sin.

It was not Adam, probably because, like in childhood, he simply went along with the plan rather than think of it. It was Eve in fact who was most to blame, according to most religious beliefs and there are two separate reasons for this. One is because she thought of the plan and two because she proposed the plan and convinced Adam to go along with it.

However, existentialist evolvement and analysis of the situation from this perspective was enough to assimilate Adam and Eve's situation more from a human approach and, at the same time, more secular. According to these analysts, leaving the Garden of Eden, along with the taste from the Tree of Knowledge, was equivalent to a new type of freedom being discovered by Adam and Eve. At the same time an act of courage, turning against the will of God in search for knowledge, meant that this turned to an escape and a positive deed provoked, again, by Eve, becoming the artisan of a search for freedom. It is among these lines that Milton builds his "Paradise Lost," a feminist work from many perspectives.

In its basic form, feminism argues for women's equality with men, no matter what the area of activity, be it political, economical or social. Milton, in fact, goes beyond this type of feminism and argues for the woman as a symbol of freedom, of liberation, as well as an inspirational figure who is able to build the leadership momentum and take Adam out in the world, offering him his freedom.

The first thing worth mentioning however is not necessarily Eve's relation with Adam, but rather her relationship with herself, in the sense that she manages to display her independence throughout her poem, a strong sense of her feminism. This is not a woman who, once created from Adam's rib, follows him tacitly around the Paradise. In fact, from the very moment of her birth or waking, she develops a narcissistic approach that is probably a fundamental element in building one's independence, through a strong belief in one's self.

As she looks in the pool, there are several important things that come out of her action. First, the reader understands how this is able to develop later on into her independence and freedom: she pays almost no attention to Adam's calling, but is instead fascinated with her image in the water. It is almost as if she is assessing herself, evaluating what she will be able to do (as a feminist would) and determining what her possibilities are.

God's voice stating that What thou seest,

What there thou seest fair creature is thyself,

With thee it came and goes: but follow me,

And I will bring thee where no shadow stays

Multitudes like thyself, and thence be called

Mother of the human race" is really the part in the poem that balances and hints at the future parallelism of the poem in terms of Eve's choices. As James Earl showed, one can see these lines as "That is your image, but it is only a shadow; you are Adam's image; your children will be your real image" (Earl, 1985). There are several things worth examining in these verses.

First of all, the antithesis between independence and life with Adam is emphasized here. God makes no hidden statements in saying that that is Eve's face, but in pointing out that her true goal should not be discovering her own identity, but living up to the identity that has been chosen and decided for her: that of mothering Adam's children and of being the mother of the human race.

This interpretation can probably stand its ground against almost all of the prejudices about the role of the woman in society that have enflamed feminists throughout time. The idea that the only role a woman has is that of staying in the house, mothering children and taking care of the household had been so actual in the past that it seemed the letter of the law. Here, again, Milton emphasizes this old pattern of the woman's role.

According to Shullenberger, "Milton's God...institutes a rule of masculine authority which is static, closed, and oppressive, especially to women, who are excluded from heaven, and subordinated on earth" (Shullenberger, 2000). Milton's God does not provide any alternatives for the development of the woman in the Garden of Eden. Further more, and this is probably even more important, her search of her own identity can only go through her role as Adam's wife and can only, in fact, start with her giving birth to his children.

One cannot, however, see a satirical perspective from Milton here, which, somehow, argues even more for his taking feminist sides here. In his presentation and in God's words, the situation of women, as shown here in their incapacity to become anything else in society than what has already been laid and established for them (in this case by God, usually by societal norms that are in practice), becomes satirically ridiculous. Milton acknowledges virtually to taking sides with the feminists and women everywhere.

Additionally, God's words create and define the world around Adam, his creation (although Eve is also God's creation, but she has an implied secondary statute as compared to that of Adam). The relationship between Adam and God obviously surpasses in depth that between Eve and God. Adam does not feel, at any point, the need to look around his surroundings, to become aware and is thus satirically portrayed as being an ignorant individual. He simply takes for granted and understands as being true anything that God tells him.

On the other hand, Eve searches, looks around and discovers. Some of the questions she asks may seem ignorant, but, in fact, they show some of the intelligent innocence portrayed by children who begin to look around their environment and ask smart and logical questions to which it is difficult for an adult to answer. One of these cases is when Eve states that "But wherefore all night long shine theses, for whom/This glorious sight, when sleep hath shut all eyes?" - obviously, a most reasonable question: why would God let the stars shine only at night when this the time when people sleep and nobody will be able to enjoy and admire them.

The answer that Adam gives to Eve is simplified to a scientific explanation, which shows both that Adam has not really understood the direction of the question and that he ignores or rather does not want to look deeper into Eve's development as a woman, into her inner beliefs and feelings. At the same time, he simply does not assume or lets his mind contemplate the idea that Eve might be a rational human being, with feelings and one you can engage into a rational conversation with. The reason for this is that Adam is obviously a misogynic individual.

The reader also understands an additional perspective of Adam's misogynist approach. Even in the case in which he could be assumed as investigative in his nature and searching for his own truths, the idea that Eve could come up with a question or a subject of discussion that he himself would think of is unimaginable, because he cannot conceive man and woman developing on the same level and attaining the same status, especially not in terms of knowledge.

Such answers from Adam are probably some of the incentives that make Eve look for answers outside the strict garden environment, where God and Adam either ignore her or simply isolate her in the role she is supposed to play in the action. Satan and his temptations appear as the obvious instruments for her escape and this is anticipated in the dream that Eve has and in which she follows Satan's explanation of the stars, much more in line with what she was expecting to hear from Adam.

She also flies away with Satan, which can be seen both as an anticipation of her later deeds in listening to Satan (in fact, her liberation… [END OF PREVIEW]

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"Milton's Paradise Lost and Feminism."  December 8, 2008.  Accessed September 21, 2019.