For this assignment I will be answering the question “The hero of Paradise lost is Eve rather than Adam, assess the validity of this comment”. I will discuss what a hero means and how Eve’s actions could make her the hero of the poem or the villain. I hope to show whether or not there actually is a hero in the poem and if it is Eve what did she achieve as the ‘hero’. Or could Adam be the hero? I will discuss both.
“The concept of a hero has many meanings and aspects. In every culture and period, there have always been heroes.
They represent a human universal, something very basic, which is connected to all human souls. The hero symbolises a goal, a role model and an example that inspires identification. Every generation chooses and creates its heroes. Real or imaginary heroes permit us to fulfil aspirations latent within us. Folk tales about heroes always contain a confrontation between a hero, whose victory exemplary, and a defeated opponent.
There is a moment of struggle in which good overcomes evil. (Samson: the hero and the man: the story of Samson pg 271). The attitude in the bible toward the subject of the hero is complex. In the sources, there is pronounced rejection of the ideal of heroism, replacing it with the ideal of restraint and self control: “he that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city” (prov. 16:32). The bible teaches that ones true enemy within, and one should not seek an external enemy. Rather one should battle against the flaws in ones character”. (Samson: the hero and the man: the story of Samson pg 275). Does Eve or Adam fit the character of the hero?
The biblical hero is not to be identified with the usual characteristics of a hero even though he may poses them or some of them, his main characteristic is not physical strength but moral strength, permitting him to be obedient to god when all others reject god or the need to be obedient. The biblical hero obtains glory through submission. (Heroism and Paradise lost pg 13). From this statement I can say that the church would not consider Eve to be the hero as she disobeyed Gods one rule of not eating the fruit from the forbidden tree.
By being tempted by Satan to eat the fruit Eve was disobeying God and having weak moral strength, everything the biblical hero wouldn’t do or have. From reading the poem Eve could be interpreted as the hero as her transgression initiates the properly human action of the poem by fulfilling Gods intention, that she and Adam should become “authors to themselves” (Paradise lost 3. 122) Eve has clearly been created to answer Adams need for another self and Gods great idea of subordination. Eve reflects the image of her maker radiating truth and wisdom. True filial submission manifests most completely in the act of self sacrifice.
The true form of heroic martyrdom is, of course most conspicuously exemplified by the son of god, whose merit is demonstrated by his willingness to give his own life in order to redeem the soon to be fallen human race. The defining moment of Eve’s heroism occurs when she offers her own life for Adams in atonement for their sin, which they both committed. Adam may never have committed the sin if it hadn’t of been for his love for Eve but he still created his sin of his own free will which God gave to both Adam and Eve. Eve’s act of self sacrifice echoed that of the son of God.
Adam points out that Eve’s willingness to sacrifice her own life is based on a faulty premise, as she lacks the spiritual capital to appease Gods wrath. However Eve’s gesture of self sacrifice is not pointless because it produces commiseration in Adam and thus begins regeneration. Eve’s heroic offer to sacrifice herself for Adams sake produces the transformation of evil into good. (All in all: unity, diversity and Miltonic perspective Pg 67-70). Eve’s argument for there to be division of labour seems more reasonable than Adams docile submission to divine authority.
Her willingness is to question authority suggests that she has a desire to improve herself. The scene of Eves encounter with the serpent may seem to be unfortunate, her choice of eating the fruit may seem wrong but it is necessary to the fulfilment of Gods redemptive plan for humanity. (All in all: unity, diversity and Miltonic perspective Pg 70-72). It can be argued that Adam is the hero also, as Adam has similar traits with all the major classical heroes; he shares the general heroic qualities of eloquence, reason, beauty, strength and intellectual acumen.
Adam loses the struggle because he chooses Eve over God and there by indirectly defeated by satin (Paradise lost and the classical epic pg 51). It is thought that Eve is but the shadow of Adam and therefore cannot be the hero. She owes her mental and physical being to Adam and was actually created out of his rib. (Milton, pg 214). The following arguments could be stated to prove Adam to be the true hero of the poem. Adam predominates the last ten books of the epic, i. e. he is one of the central characters. Secondly the theme of the whole epic actually revolves around the character of Adam and his destiny.
The fall of humanity from its state of perfection and bliss symbolically presented the fall of Adam from paradise. The great actions of the archangel Satan are only means of bringing down Adam from his heavenly seat, and so Satan is simply instrumental in the fall of adam. ie the fall of mankind. Also Adam is no ordinary human being as he represents all of humanity. Though Adam is not as large in physical stature compared to Satan and was created out of earth and not out of fire like Satan, it is he and only he, among all the creatures of God, who was created in God’s image, and therefore, he is, at least in this sense, superior to Satan.
The last reason is that Adam is more humane than Satan; he is more sensitive and rational than Satan. It is for this reason that we are moved by the fall of Adam and not that of Satan, who, we all think deserved it. ( Fellowship in paradise: Vergil, Milton, Wordsworth pg 61 ) Eve’s elevation brings about the central conflict in the poem. It is this conflict that ignites the degregation of Adam and Eve from the purified heroism of heaven to the degenerate heroism of Satan. In the poem Adam must choose between his love for Eve and his obedience to God.
Eve too must make a decision between love and heroism she makes this after she falls though. Her first choice was vanity, obedience and self love. After leaving Adam she changes her decision and chooses between accepting the consequences of eating the forbidden fruit and virtually killing Adam out of jealousy. It is her second choice that is a question of love and honour in the classical epic sense. In each epic there is a choice between love and the heroic action appropriate to that poem.
The classical heroes choose the heroic alternative over the affectionate but in paradise lost both heroes fail by choosing love over virtue. (Paradise lost and the classical epic pg 56). To conclude my essay I would have to say that I believe there is a multitude of heroism in Paradise lost. Not only would I consider Eve and Adam to be heroic characters there is also Satan. Who I believe also played a heroic part in the poem. Of course it was a romantic interpretation, but Satan has most of the heroic action in the first three books, he has the most commendable sentiments expressed in the poems most powerful language.
Above all Satan stands for basically humanist sentiments. (Byronic hero types and proto, pg 109-110). To assess the validity of my question/title I would be happy in saying that it is quite valid. The true hero of paradise lost is Eve rather than Adam, as I have stated above, she may have been the reason Adam ate the fruit and committed the sin but I believe that her actions afterward and the taking of responsibility made her the most human character in the poem and the most heroic.
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