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Paradise Lost by John Milton - Barron's Booknotes
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LINES 191-384. THE FATAL DECISION

For the serpent to tempt Eve, he must have her on her own. In the Biblical source of the story there is no mechanism for Eve to become separated from Adam. In Milton's version, this dialog not only separates Adam and Eve, it also tells us about their relationship. You can see that the angel Raphael had reason to warn Adam against uxoriousness.

The arguments Eve makes are reasonable ones. So are Adam's replies. The dialog illustrates the old saying that the way to Hell is paved with good intentions.

Eve first argues for the division of labor: if we separate, we will get twice as much done, When we work together, we talk too much.

Adam gently points out that God won't really mind if all the garden chores do not get done. God didn't make man for toil, but for "delight / He made us, and delight to reason joined." If you really want to leave me for a little while, I won't mind-except for one thing: we have been warned of danger and should stay together.



This is not news to Eve, who had overheard the conversation between Adam and Raphael. But she is not pleased by the implication that she can't be trusted to repel the seducer.

Adam hastily assures her that he didn't mean she can't be trusted, but that Satan will be unlikely to attack if they are together. Even if you fight off the temptation, it is a horrible experience which you don't want to suffer if you can help it. He is a strong enemy, for he seduced half the angels. Stay with me, Eve: I am strengthened by your presence. Don't you feel the same?

But, Eve argues, Paradise isn't much if we have to stick together for fear of harm. God could not have "Left so imperfect" the situation in Eden.

Adam severely puts Eve right, using the word "woman" instead of the usual flattering titles. God is perfect, but he left man free will. The responsibility is ours, so I am not mistrusting you, Eve, but simply taking sensible precautions. First prove your obedience. After all, if you repel the tempter alone, who will be there to see? Adam finally gives the responsibility to Eve: she has her own free will and must make her own choices. If she stays to please Adam, she would build up resentment. With a warning, he gives permission for her to go.

Eve has the last word, as Milton points out. She feels perfectly confident in her own powers, and she's convinced that Satan wouldn't attack the weaker of the two first. If he did, "the more shame his repulse."

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