Milton's Paradise Lost and Feminism Research Proposal

Excerpt from Research Proposal :

This is obviously an escape in her dream from the societal norms and from the strict rules that are imposed in the garden and that govern her existence, as well as her role in this environment. Being able to escape them, even with help from Satan, is possible in Eve's dream.

Eve's road towards independence grows with each book in "Paradise Lost," some pointing out to the way her autonomy becomes more emphasized in the gardening scene. At this point, she wished to work by herself, without Adam, for a period of time. Not only has she distanced herself from Adam, but she is also at ease with her own individual identity, which means that she is confident about spending time on her own and, in fact, even wishing it.

However, her being alone also makes her vulnerable to temptation. Feminists will probably dwell significantly on this as an aspect of how woman's is sometimes shown as inferior or implied that Adam's presence may have avoided some of the misfortunes that later occurred. As Landy has shown, "the possibility that Adam should perhaps have kept her by his side further intensifies the woman's inferiority. Later Eve, Adam, the poet, and the reader will agree (...) that Eve should have remained by Adam's side" (Landy, 1972).

Despite some theoreticians and analysts arguing that, in fact, this is a manifestation of Adam's openness towards equality, a suggestion that he is just as vulnerable to being in the wrong and to falling to temptation, to which he suggests they could stay together for the benefit of both of them, we tend to believe, especially following the way the relationship between the two develops throughout the poem, as well as how the role and presence of Eve in the garden is defined and acknowledged throughout the poem, that the former version is more sustainable: Adam does not, in fact, want to leave Eve alone because he has no confidence in her ability to not do any harm and/or get herself into any mischief.

At different points throughout the poem, it is often difficult to discern among Milton's perspective and approach on the woman and her role. It is also a challenge to understand whether this is a misogynistic perspective, with Milton siding with the idea that that is indeed the role of the woman in society and looking scornfully at her attempts to liberate or whether he only chooses these situations to throw a sarcastic and scornful glance at these type of misogynistic practices. Does Milton have misogynistic beliefs as they are represented in Paradise Lost or not?

In my opinion, he does not and most of his allusions are sufficiently transparent to support the idea according to which his inner belief is that Eve's liberties are restricted in the garden and, for this, she can be understood in any of her future actions. This is something that is also argued by the way God positions himself in the relationship with the inhabitants of the garden: as a true patriarch, he draws the rules and stipulates them clearly (as in the verses quoted in the first part of this paper) as to what role each is to be assigned and what is expected of each.

At the same time, one cannot acknowledge that the relationship between Adam and Eve is also a relationship which evolves towards showing more of the mentioned misogynistic behavior. Many critics have shown that up to the fourth book of Milton's poem, the relationship between Adam and Eve is a relationship of "mutual dependence, not a relation of domination or hierarchy" (Rust, 2007). While we can agree to some point with this perspective, significant hints are given as to the woman's role and position, as well as what is expected of her and what is not. At the same time, we can also tacitly acknowledge and see through her future escape.

Seeing the ending of the poem, the reader also has an additional argument as to why Milton should not be seen himself as a misogynistic writer. Indeed, he leaves Eve in a positive light, especially by comparison to Adam's stance and reaction on their being thrown out of the Garden of Eden. Adam has a cowardly attitude: he himself has chosen to eat the apple and accept the temptation, however, he blames the instrument of temptation rather than himself for accepting it. The way that Eve accepts both this assertion leaves the woman character in a positive light (Doerksen, 1997).

From a feminist perspective, nevertheless, it is easy to see how, on a superficial level, Milton does place the woman second in God's preference, allocates a reduced and limited role for her, does not encourage her extensive exploration of her own beliefs and feelings and, eventually, the character he draws can only turn away from the world in which she has been installed and where she finds it more and more difficult to adapt her own perspective and her own wishes.

From a feminist perspective, the new configuration at the end of the poem is, in my opinion, essential. The dependencies as presented by the situation at the end of the poem are both ways now. God has been eliminated from the equation of the relationship between Adam and Eve and Eve can assume her role more and more as an equal participant in the marriage contract that seems to grow out of the relationship as it is presented after the expulsion from the Garden of Eden. It is important to emphasize that Adam is now dependent on Eve himself and that this is something that has been left as such by God in his final words.

Works Cited

1. Earl, James W. "Eve's Narcissism." Milton Quarterly 19, 1985.

2. Landy, Marcia. "Kinship and the Role of Women in Paradise Lost." Milton Studies 4. 1972.

3. Shullenberger, Wm. "Wrestling with the Angle: Paradise Lost and Feminist Criticism." Milton Quarterly 20. 1986.

4. Doerksen, D. "Let There Be Peace': Eve as Redemptive Peacemaker in Paradise Lost, Book…

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