Universally accepted as one of the world's foremost epics, John Milton's Paradise Lost traces the history of the world from a Christian perspective. (Milton, 1667) The narrative of the poem largely deals with falling and how desires -- God, Satan, Jesus, Adam and Eve's -- lead to it. The book is about mankind's fall -- Original Sin -- Adam and Eve's disobedience of God. There are other instances of falling in the plot too. First, Satan's fall from God's graces, as related to Adam and Eve by the angel Raphael, represents the past in the Universe's creation. The second instance -- the present (in the narrative) -- is the Adam and Eve's eating of the Forbidden Fruit. The third instance represents the future. Michael, as he readies to escort Adam and Eve out of Paradise, presents to them the various falls of man until Jesus comes to rescue by dying so that man may regain eternal life.
This essay deals primarily with how Milton uses the word "hands" as metaphors or metonymies (parts for the whole) to represent Adam and Eve's physicality and emotions. Hands represent physical work, light heartedness, joy, seduction, deceit, despair, equivocation, supplication and companionship. Milton also uses "hands" effectively to represent the deep chasm between good and evil. The Son of God who intercedes on behalf of the first couple; and, is destined to die so that the Paradise lost may once again be regained is on the right hand of God. Satan, on the other hand, is on the left. Satan is condemned to "grovel and eat dirt" like the serpent he purported to be.
After having created the Universe and having topped it with the making of Man and his mate, God sends the angel Raphael to warn Adam and Eve of their impending seduction. Raphael warns them that the love that they feel for each other be recognized as unimpeachable and pure and not a satiating of carnal desires. Left alone, the couple has the run of the Garden of Eden. They tend the garden with their hands. Milton ascribes to the couple the joys of toil. Adam and Eve discover a small part of God's creative strengths when he created Man in his own image.
The hands' dispatch of two gardening so wide, (IX-202)
And Eve first to her husband thus began.
Adam, well may we labour still to dress
This garden, still to tend plant, herb, and flower,
Our pleasant task enjoined; but, till more hands
In the above text, the references to "hands" bespeak Adam and Eve's state of mind. In the first case, there exists a novelty to the fruits of labor. But later fatigue sets in. This fatigue is coupled with recognition of the vastness of the task. Eve complains. She echoes the adage "many hands would make for light work." The second "hand" reference is the beginning of doubt in Eve's mind.
Eve wants to lessen their work and split up. Adam, smitten by this beautiful woman cannot bear to part from her.
He implores her that they work together -- the joint hands more a melding of their hearts. He even envisions having children with her; when their children might be of assistance to them.
He made us, and delight to reason joined.
These paths and bowers doubt not but our joint hands
Will keep from wilderness with ease, as wide
As we need walk, till younger hands ere long
Assist us; But, if much converse perhaps
Thee satiate, to short absence I could yield
His hands are tied and he lets her work alone. She separates from her husband. The hands reference is the first portend of the evil influence of Satan.
So bent, the more shall shame him his repulse. (IX-347)
Thus saying, from her husband's hand her hand
Soft she withdrew; and, like a Wood-Nymph light
Eve's hand comes to represent her seductive beauty, that even Satan, for an instant is attracted to her. When she is seduced by Satan into eating the fruit of the Tree of Life, Milton effectively uses the transference of her complete abdication of her loyalty to her husband and his promise of obedience to God. The rashness of her character is transferred to her hand.
So saying, her rash hand in evil hour (IX-779)
Forth reaching to the fruit, she plucked, she eat!
Paradise Lost is one of the greatest examples of pen to paper because of the imagination of John Milton. Eve returns to Adam full of love for him that he too might enjoy the abounding and infinite knowledge that God had kept from them.
Of knowledge he must pass; there he her met, (IX-849)
Scarce from the tree returning; in her hand bough of fairest fruit, that downy smiled,
Adam is dumbfounded when he learns of Eve's impudence. The wreath he has been creating for Eve falls from his "slack" hand. And though he does not want to eat the fruit, he is beguiled by the beauty of Eve, his love for her, and for his fear of losing her.
She gave him of that fair enticing fruit (IX-995)
With liberal hand: he scrupled not to eat,
Against his better knowledge; not deceived,
But fondly overcome with female charm.
After both have eaten of the fruit, innocence is lost. Once again, the hand characterizes the transformation from pure love to carnal lust. One can see in the language where post-Fall Adam grabs Eve's hand and pulls her to their bed, where before it was Eve who gently took Adam's hand. Milton uses explicit metaphors. The hands of Adam and Eve mirror their personalities, souls and their emotions.
Shame and revulsion overcomes Adam and Eve. Here Milton demonstrates a marked difference between the falls of Satan and the fall of Mankind. When Satan is cast into Hell, along with his minions, he plots revenge. Satan along with Death and Sin are forced into Hell where Satan is forced to grovel like the serpent he wanted to be. Faced with eternal damnation, Eve, weak as usual, wants to commit suicide -- "take her life by her own hands." Adam who is complicit is perplexed. He is not sure how, "That from her hand I could suspect no ill (X-141),
And what she did, whatever in itself."
This raises interesting questions regarding the plan of God. Was Man destined to fall? And was Paradise Lost a small part of God's master plan? The evolution of Christianity is fraught with differences of opinions. Milton shows how Adam and Eve had free will in making choices that led to their downfall. Milton was a Puritan as opposed to the Calvinists (followers of John Calvin). David Hume's Theodice Problem identified the inherent contradictions in Christian dogma. (Wigglesworth, 1662) The Theodice Problem (espoused by many atheists and deists) averred that if God was the omnipotent, omniscient and good creator, then Adam and Eve could not have been granted free will. And if Adam and Eve made their own choices -- that was their ultimate downfall, then God was not all-powerful.
The hand is representative of the entire being as the Son intercedes on behalf of Adam and Eve. He appeals to his Father (God) invoking God's benevolence and omnipotence as he created Man.
My early visitation, and my last (XI-287) even, which I bred up with tender hand
From the first opening bud, and gave ye names!
While Eve wants to end it all, Adam believes that they still have hope if they are truly repentant. Their hands now are vessels of supplication and submissiveness. They throw themselves on the mercy of God and his Son.
To whom thus Adam gratefully replied. (XI-384)
Ascend, I follow thee, safe Guide, the path
Thou leadest me; and to the hand of Heaven submit,
However chastening; to the evil turn
My obvious breast; arming to overcome
By suffering, and earn rest from labour won,
The couple hopes that throwing themselves on the mercy of God will gain them redemption. Unfortunately, while redemption is to be had, Man still is bound to suffer the taints of Original Sin. As the militant angel Michael (as opposed to the gentle Raphael) comes to lead Adam and Eve, by gentle hand, he gives them a glimpse of what their disobedience has wrought. Adam and Eve's fall will give rise to countless falls in the form of Sin. Adam and Eve are cursed to witness one son die at the "hand" of another. Only the sacrifice of Jesus Christ can remove Original Sin.
As the poem ends, Adam and Eve are humiliated and cursed to suffer pain, the changing of the seasons and occasional failure of the fruits of their labor. Yet their lives come full circle. After creation, filled with the Joy of the newness of their lives, Adam and Eve (Eve particularly) wanted to work separately. At the end life comes full circle, as Michael leads Adam and Eve from Paradise; they walk "hand-in-hand" seeking the…