(Sarah Levy ’19 wrote this paper for HUM 218-219.)
“…But to Adam in what sort
Shall I appear? Shall I to him make known
As yet my change, and give him to partake
Full happiness with me, or rather not,
But keep the odds of knowledge in my power
Without copartner? 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?
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. Confirmed then I resolve;
Adam shall share with me in bliss or woe:
So dear I love him, that with him all deaths
I could endure, without him live no life.”
The Search for Identity within Eve’s Hidden Second Choice
In the original Biblical account of the Fall, much emphasis is placed on the seduction of Eve and her decision to eat of the forbidden fruit. “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat” (KJV Gen. 3:6). That Eve shares the fruit with Adam as well is almost an afterthought. In Milton’s epic version, however, there is a dramatization of this second decision of Eve’s to pass on to Adam the fruit and the sin. Eve is not merely a link in the chain between Satan and Man. Milton explores the effect the fruit would have had on Eve alone. In his version, the apple instills in her a newfound sense of self-awareness. As Eve realizes that, in eating the apple, she has done something on her own for the first time, and has a choice whether or not to share this with Adam, she begins to try to understand her own identity. Eve’s upward trajectory of accepting her femininity and claiming an identity parallels the downward projection of the Fall. As she becomes more certain of herself through her internal deliberation and questions, she gets closer to bringing Adam to sin. In providing the reader with Eve’s thought process, Milton shows her ranging- and changing- motivations and empowers her as a character.
Fittingly, this passage is from Eve’s first internal monologue. In choosing to eat the forbidden fruit, the usually obedient Eve was exercising her agency, and suddenly, her thoughts are important. Her voice is important. She’s carving out an individual space for herself in the poem. Throughout this passage, Eve will continue to test out her newfound power of choice. She realizes that for the first time, she is in control of how she will present herself to Adam. “But to Adam in what sort/ Shall I appear?” She also realizes that her identity is not fixed; she can choose what “sort” of person she becomes. In addition, Eve has knowledge that Adam doesn’t have, and this gives her power over him. “Shall I to him make known/ My change, and give him to partake/ Full happiness?”. Eve recognizes that a “change” has befallen her, and she takes responsibility and possession over it, describing it as “My change.” Eve was created for Adam and from Adam. Adam witnessed her creation taking shape, and God “guided” her toward him in her first stage of life. But now, Eve owns something for herself, and she can guide herself how she chooses.
This awareness of her own power, however, fills Eve with uncertainty. Her deliberation is marked by long-winded questions and equivocal language, showing that whether or not to confide in Adam is not an easy decision for her to make. She doesn’t know what the right thing is to do is, and she’s weighing her options. “Shall I to him make known/ As yet my change” reveals that she herself is still trying to understand what exactly has happened to her. Eve’s first instinct is to share (“partake”) her new knowledge and “full happiness” with Adam. She wants them to be together in everything… “or rather not.” In the same line, she realizes that perhaps sharing with Adam is not the best option; it would make Eve’s new power over him meaningless. “…But keep the odds of knowledge in my power/ Without copartner.” The word “odds” evokes the idea of risk and chance. By trying to act independently of Adam, her “copartner,” Eve is crossing into unknown territory.
Thinking about her newfound power leads Eve to question herself in the context of her femininity and her relationship with Adam. In her mind, man is “superior,” and therefore, she must be “inferior.” (The rhyming sounds emphasize the connection between those two words.) As long as she not equal to Adam, she is not “free.” For the first time, though, she feels like she has the ability to correct this existent gender inequality between the sexes. Eve is the first and only living female, and now she’s discovering that she can define what being female means. She speaks of “my power”- she’s taking ownership of her power, trying to wield it. Yet Eve is inexperienced; her contradictory language reveals that she does not fully understand what inequality means. In the same line in which she calls Adam her “copartner,” implying that they are members of an equal relationship, she talks about the female sex being “lacking.” Can she and Adam be equal if their sexes aren’t? She talks about using her new knowledge to advance herself and “add what wants/ In female sex,” but only for the purpose of making herself more pleasing to Adam, “the more to draw his love.” There is something unequal about only one partner in a relationship having to put in effort to extract the love from the other. The fact that Eve is considering empowering herself for the sake of Adam’s perception of her weakens her very power. She talks of becoming “more equal,” but that’s also a paradox. Either two people are equal or they’re not.
Eve thinks that being equal will make her free, but she doesn’t clearly understand freedom either. “And render me more equal, and perhaps,/ A thing not undesirable, sometime/ Superior; for inferior who is free?” The equivocal language, double negative, and ambiguity of this verse reveal Eve’s state of deep wondering. Satan also could not feel free while being “inferior” to the Son of God. But while he rebelled for his freedom, Eve is afraid of inequality and freedom. It is “perhaps/ A thing not undesirable, sometime.” The more she thinks, the more she realizes how unsure she is of herself. Eve knows she has power but does not know what it means to possess or use it.
Eve’s failure to understand herself in terms of equality and freedom marks a break in the passage. Suddenly, Eve realizes that in all certainty, she has every right to be uncertain. She actually does not have as much power as she imagined and is not entirely in control of her fate. “This may be well: but what if God hath seen/ And death ensue?” God is the force interrupting her thoughts. Before, she had arrogantly assumed that she could be “a secret” from God, that the omnipotent creator, “up high in Heav’n,” had not seen her transgress his one commandment. This let her envision a reality in which she could possibly be equal to or superior to Adam. But with the realization that she’s not invincible, and that God may very well punish her for her act, that vision fades away. God created her, and God can end her. Eve might wonder how to “appear” before Adam, but God “hath seen” her and knows the truth. Realizing this, Eve falls back on what she knows. Perhaps she doesn’t really want to be on her own.
Now, But it is in contemplating her mortality that Eve learns the most about herself. She is terrified by the idea that she “shall live no more.” No longer is “more equality” and “more…love” important; now she just wants to keep her life. The strong presence of the words “death” (three times) and “extinct” reveal Eve’s total fear of dying. But what terrifies her even more than her own death is the realization that her very life is perhaps meaningless. “And Adam wedded to another Eve shall live enjoying; I extinct.” God is the one who wedded Adam to Eve, and he can just as easily create another bride for the first man. Eve is forced to confront her own perceived vulnerability and replicability. Adam doesn’t need her specifically, and she is powerless to do anything about this. Even her name is not her own; it will be passed down to the next woman who takes her place. The name “Eve” derives from the Hebrew phrase “mother of all living things.” If Eve dies now, she dies without children and without fulfilling the destiny of her name. Her potential to beget the human race will become “extinct.” She will leave behind no legacy, and even Adam will forget her, “enjoying” his new wife. But it is in thinking about her absence (“A death to think”) she is able to finally find herself. By recognizing the distinction between “Eve” and herself, she comes to understand that she is her own person. “Eve” as wife and mother might be replaceable, but Eve as an individual is not. Whereas in the beginning of the passage Eve used the word “I” twice, tentatively testing out her agency, she claims the word “I” four times in this latter half of the passage, asserting her identity as an individual.
Eve uses this newfound sense of individuality to empower herself. Finally, she makes up her mind, and there is no more equivocation or uncertainty. The words “Confirmed then I resolve” emphasize her resoluteness. Eve’s final decision is to share the fruit with Adam, just like she originally planned. But there’s been a transformation in her intent; this time, she wants to share on her own terms. “Adam shall share with me in bliss or woe.” She is the first wife, the first one wedded to Adam, and now she’s taking it upon herself to define what exactly a marriage entails. It means husband and wife will share (equally) in each other’s happiness and suffering. She refuses to be replaced. And she doesn’t give Adam a choice. Before “shall” was used to show uncertainty. (“In what sort/ Shall I appear” “Shall I to him make known.”) Now, “shall” is used almost as a command. Adam “shall” do as Eve says. He will join Eve in eating the apple and facing divine wrath. At this moment, Eve demonstrates that she’s grown. She is claiming ownership of her life and recognizing that she is her own person.
At the same time, Eve is able to grasp that individuality does not assume complete independence. Adam’s love is the only thing powerful which enables her to reconcile her mortality, and having him as a “copartner” does not make her unequal. With Adam by her side, she can face the continuous troubles evoked by the words “any deaths.” Before, Eve spoke of “drawing” love from Adam. But now, she finds strength in simply being “with” him. And instead of using the knowledge of the apple to raise herself up, Eve decides rather to bring Adam down to her level. They can be together in sin and its consequences. This might seem selfish, that Eve is going to force Adam die for her sake. That was Satan’s motivation in corrupting man with sin- if he couldn’t live in Paradise, no one should. But unlike Satan, Eve decides this because “so dear I love him.” Love has the power to complicate death. By the end of the passage, Eve has a clearer idea of her relationship with Adam, and the relationship has been strengthened. Before, Adam and Eve were forced together by God. But now, Eve chooses to confide in Adam, share with him, and face death with him. She might not have had control over being crafted from his flesh and bone, but she choses now to link their fates in matters of life and death (the last two words of the last two lines of the passage). She understands how important it is for both of them to be together.
By thinking about herself in relation to the downward progression of issues relating to power, freedom, Adam, and death, Eve comes to understand herself. This self-awareness leads her to influence Adam to “partake” of the transgression, completing Original Sin. Is Milton suggesting that feminist awareness is subversive, as it leads down the path of sin? Perhaps. But there are also hints throughout the poem that Milton does not believe the Fall was entirely tragic. As Satan said, Adam and Eve are “imparadised in one another’s arms.” The garden is not as important as the relationship between man and woman. In this case, Milton is suggesting that Eve’s personal growth, and the way it enables her to be closer to Adam, is surely a good thing.