Before the Fall, the relationship Adam and Eve had was ideal. There were no arguments, and they worked as a team to tend to the Garden of Eden. However, after the Fall, their relationship disintegrated into something much less perfect. When Adam and Eve received the knowledge of good and evil, they began to put blame on themselves and each other. It is blame, in John Milton’s Paradise Lost, that pulls Adam and Eve apart. However, just as there is hope for the complete regeneration of Adam, Eve, and the rest of humanity, the love in their relationship can be regenerated with the help of the Son. I will argue that the Son prevents the collapse of Adam’s and Eve’s relationship by teaching them how to communicate without blame, making it possible for them to stand united in the face of the post-lapsarian world.
In this passage, Milton uses very plain, unambiguous language to explain their love. Unlike their fallen counterparts (i.e. the humanity they give birth to), the post-lapsarian Adam and Eve do not have to worry about guilt or dishonesty. Additionally, the capacity to make “honour dishonourable” is not available to either Adam or Eve in regard to their display of affection or their nakedness. In these lines, Milton also makes it clear that we, as readers, can rest assured that Adam’s and Eve’s displays of love for each other are not “shows.” Their inability to lie keeps them from insincere exhibitions of love. Milton’s description of their love leaves no room for doubt, then, that, after their creation, Adam and Eve had a perfect love.
Though Adam and Eve reside in Paradise and have a perfect love, that doesn’t mean that they are free of problems and obstacles. When Satan enters the Garden of Eden as a toad, he instills a dream into Eve’s ear. Upon waking, she discusses the dream with Adam, being openly honest in the process. In this way, their communication allows for a dissection of Eve’s dream and reassurance that Eve is still free of blame. After Eve’s explanation.
Afterward, the narrator states “So all was cleared” (5.136), indicating that Eve had a clean conscience after the dream and her conversation with Adam. By telling Adam about the strange and evil dream she had, she cleared the evil thoughts from herself. Though there is a certain amount of dramatic irony in Adam’s comment about how Eve “waking wilt never consent” to eat the fruit, there is no reason to think that remnant thoughts from Eve’s dream contributed to her later actions when she is tempted by Satan at the Tree of Knowledge. The narrator says that she is cleared of any evil, and she herself appears repentant as she “silently a gentle tear let fall” (5.130). As I mentioned earlier in the paper, both Adam and Eve are incapable of dishonesty (4.113-118). By that argument, Eve cannot be deceiving Adam by making him believe a show of repentance. Even though Adam and Eve had to confront and reconcile the dream that Satan placed in Eve’s mind, they remained pure and blame-free by openly communicating and repenting. This is the model of the perfect relationship that is set up before the Fall.
Though Eve is pointing out how ridiculous Adam’s worry is, there is no cruel retort from Adam. Neither is Eve really criticizing Adam for his unnecessary concern. Instead, she reminds him of the food that is “ripe for use” and of the abundance in the Garden of Eden, which is so novel for both of them. Eve even addresses Adam in an endearing manner by beginning with “earth’s hallowed mould” rather than another less affectionate epithet. Again, though this epithet might seem insincere because it sounds exaggerated or oversweet, neither Adam nor Eve is capable of insincere shows of affection or sarcasm (4.113-118). Any artificiality we might see in those lines is based on an assumption we make based on our own fallen natures as readers. Thus, even in moments when their relationship might seem unsteady, neither of them is vindictive.
The moments when their relationship really seems to unravel begin in Book 9 while Eve tries to persuade Adam to allow her to work in the garden away from him. In fact, their conversation goes on for many lines of the poem (5.205-384). However, even though this disagreement and its results ultimately lead to Eve’s temptation and the Fall, the disagreement itself is not one of blame. For example, in Adam’s last argument to Eve before she leaves him, he says: “Not then mistrust, but tender love enjoins,/ That I should mind thee oft, and mind thou me” (9.357-358). Though this is one of Adam’s last statements, he doesn’t try to force her to stay, and he doesn’t get angry that she is being somewhat stubborn in her desires. Instead, he tries to help her understand that his concern is based on worry and love. Additionally, Adam reminds Eve that they are supposed to look after each other. Adam’s statements, though they are not strong enough to keep Eve from leaving, do not indicate any blame on either the part of Adam or Eve. Without Satan there to tempt Eve, the disagreement would likely have sorted itself out since Adam was only worried about Eve’s well-being. Had Eve come back to him unfallen and unharmed, the entire focus of the disagreement would have been negated and would no longer be an issue. But, because there is no time before the Fall for Adam and Eve to reconcile this disagreement, it becomes a point of contention and blame after the Fall.
Once Eve has returned to Adam and she convinces him to eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, much about their relationship changes. The knowledge that the tree gives them includes reason and logic that allows one to blame the other.
Though Adam and Eve had a certain innate goodness and sense of justice, those qualities are removed after the Fall. The innocence that they lose, which had previously shielded them from dishonesty, sarcasm, and blame, creates a new dynamic in their relationship. Adam and Eve now have to talk and act without innocence, and, because all their communication in now fallen, their relationship becomes as fallen as they are as individuals.
Upon waking after eating the fruit, the first thing Adam does is accuse Eve for tempting him. This is the first moment when blame enters their relationship. Adam says: “O Eve, in evil hour thou didst give ear/ To that false worm” (9.1067-1068), which is a moral judgment of Eve’s actions. Eve does not reply at this point, but, later, Adam goes on to say: “Would thou hadst hearkened to my words, and stayed/ With me, as I besought thee… we had then remained still happy” (9.1134-1138). By saying that they would not be fallen if Eve had listened to him and stayed with him, Adam is casting all the blame on her. He is also referencing the previously unreconciled disagreement from earlier in Book 9 and feels that his concern had been justified. By blaming Eve, Adam pushes their relationship into further degeneration.
Because no one enjoys being blamed, Eve also retorts and references the same disagreement by saying: “Being as I am, why didst not thou the head/ Command me absolutely not to go,/ going into such danger as thou saidst?” (9.1155-1157). Using Adam’s example of blaming her, she accuses him of neglecting his duties as “the head” of their relationship. This is a fallen argument because Eve insists that, if he had really wanted her to stay with him, he would have commanded her “absolutely” not to go. For Adam to command Eve absolutely, he would have to exert a tyrannical kind of power over her, which did not exist before the Fall. We can assert that this did not exist before the Fall by looking at Eve’s punishment from the Son in Book 10. As part of Eve’s punishment, the Son declares to Eve “to thy husband’s will/ Thine shall submit, he over thee shall rule” (10.195-196). If this sort of tyrannical patriarchy had previously existed in Paradise, then it would not be logical to use it as a punishment. Therefore, Eve’s accusation of Adam in regard to his lack of absolute command is illogical and fallen. By blaming Adam in this illogical way, she also continues the degeneration of their relationship.
Had the Son not stepped in to prevent Adam and Eve from completely destroying their relationship, it is reasonable to assume that Adam and Eve would have continued blaming each other illogically. At the end of Book 9, the narrator states: “Thus they in mutual accusation spent/ The fruitless hours, but neither self-condemning,/ And of their vain contest appeared no end” (9.1187-1189). Because neither Adam nor Eve was willing to accept some blame for their own actions respectively, there was no chance for them to reconcile or regenerate their relationship on their own.
Had their relationship been allowed to remain degenerate, Adam and Eve might have died alone without giving rise to the rest of humanity. That couldn’t happen, however, because, in Book 3, God says “for [man] I spare/ [the Son] from my bosom and right hand, to save,/ By losing [the Son] awhile, the whole race lost” (3.278-280). Since God has already decreed that the Son would be the salvation of all humanity, Adam’s and Eve’s relationship has to be regenerated somehow. Fittingly, the Son is the first to attempt to remedy Adam’s and Eve’s fallen relationship.
Right after the Son finds Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, Adam uses the same arguments with the Son that he used earlier with Eve. However, instead of lessening or absolving his guilt as Adam hopes, the arguments further incriminate him.
Instead of taking responsibility for his own actions, Adam immediately starts blaming Eve for the Fall, though he says her failing is something he “should conceal, and not expose to blame/by [his] complaint.” His own statement makes it clear that he knows blaming her is wrong. However, he talks himself into giving her up for his own end because he wants to avoid punishment if at all possible. Adam also assumes that the Son would realize that he was concealing Eve’s sin even if he did try to hide it. This exemplifies the illogical thought pattern Adam has based on fallen logic and blame. Even though Adam knows that the Son can sense what is being concealed, he still believes that, by blaming Eve, he can conceal his own sin and redirect the Son’s anger and judgment to Eve. Without the Son’s rebuke, Adam would likely have continued with his illogical thought patterns, and there would be little to no chance for the regeneration of Adam’s and Eve’s relationship.
By saying that it was not necessary for Adam to listen to Eve and reminding Adam that the word of God is superior to the words of his wife, the Son removes Adam’s excuses from him so he has no one to blame but himself. This the first instance where Adam is trained to take some blame for himself, and, by doing so, he is one step closer to promoting the regeneration of his relationship with Eve. Once he stops blaming Eve, Adam can be realistic and apply the communication methods he had before the Fall to the situation at hand.
Eve’s response to the Son after he asked her what happened, is much more straightforward. Instead of using elaborate excuses to defend herself, she simply states: “The serpent me beguiled and I did eat” (10.162). Though she does implicate the serpent in her confession, she is only relating the facts of what happened. This statement is much less fallen because she uses less blame than Adam does in his answer, so it requires no rebuke from the Son. Her answer likely includes fewer excuses than Adam’s because she has already heard the Son rebuke Adam. In this way, Eve is learning from Adam’s example and incorporates it into her response, indicating that she is benefitting from the same knowledge. Since both Adam and Eve have been introduced to the idea that blame is not a useful method of communication, they can now begin to regenerate their relationship.
There are several moments when Adam attempts to blame Eve again. During one of these times, he says: “Out of my sight, thou serpent, that name best/ Befits thee with him leagued, thyself as false/ And hateful” (10.867-869). However, when Eve begins to weep and starts blaming herself for their plight, Adam apologizes and “with peaceful words upraised her soon” (10.946). Though this might be one of the lowest points in their relationship, this conversation turns to hopeful notes when Adam says: “But rise, let us no more contend, nor blame/ Each other, blamed enough elsewhere, but strive/ in offices of love” (10.958-959). Through this conversation, both Adam and Eve have started to accept responsibility for their own actions and rebuild their relationship. Though Adam does blame Eve again, his apology strengthens their relationship, and, when he suggests that they move forward, their relationship becomes stronger than it has been since the Fall. All the regeneration that has happened in their relationship thus far has been based on the Son’s rebuke of Adam after he blamed Eve.
After being instructed by Michael on what human history will look like, Adam and Eve walk together, ready to face the consequences of their actions. Milton ends the poem with an image of their relationship’s strength.
Now that Michael has left them, they are on their own, solitary, but together. Since they are holding hands, we, as readers, can see that there is affection between them again where it didn’t exist when they were busy blaming each other. Now that they have taken the necessary steps to begin regenerating their relationship, they are ready to go forth and proliferate humanity.