Sandra M. Gilbert on Satan and the Serpentine Eve
I'm still looking into ways in which John Milton depicts the fallen Eve as 'serpentine' in Paradise Lost. I'm not the only one who's ever thought about this, as yesterday's blog entry demonstrated. Today, I want to excerpt a passage by the feminist scholar Sandra M. Gilbert, from her article of 1978, "Patriarchal Poetry and Women Readers: Reflections on Milton's Bogey," in which she argues that Milton assimilates Eve to Satan:
[E]ven the briefest reflection on Paradise Lost should remind us that, despite Eve's apparent passivity and domesticity, Milton himself seems deliberately to have sketched so many parallels between her and Satan that it is hard at times for the unwary reader to distinguish the sinfulness of one from that of the other. As Stanley Fish has pointed out, for instance, Eve's temptation speech to Adam in Book IX is "a tissue of Satanic echoes," with its central argument, "Look on me. / Do not believe," an exact duplicate of the antireligious empiricism embedded in Satan's earlier temptation speech to her. Moreover, where Adam falls out of uxorious "fondness," out of a self-sacrificing love for Eve, which, at least to the modern reader, seems quite noble, Milton's Eve falls for exactly the same reason that Satan does: because she wants to be "as Gods" and because, like him, she is secretly dissatisfied with her place, secretly preoccupied with questions of "equality." After his fall, Satan makes a pseudo-libertarian speech to his fellow angels in which he asks, "Who can in reason then or right assume / Monarchy over such as live by right / His equals, if in power and splendor less, / In freedom equal?" (V.794-97). After her fall, Eve considers the possibility of keeping the fruit to herself "so to add what wants / In Female Sex, the more to draw [Adam's] Love, / And render me more equal" (IX.821-23).I excerpted this passage from Gilbert's article after skimming the entire text, but I don't have time to deal with it fully this morning, and I'd first like to read the entire article carefully before commenting -- other than to observe that this looks interesting. Gilbert has noted various parallels in Paradise Lost between the falling and fallen Eve and the falling and fallen Satan, particularly in their reason for rebellion and their manner of tempting others.
Again, just as Milton's Satan -- despite his pretensions to equality with the divine -- dwindles from an angel into a dreadful (though subtle) serpent, so Eve is gradually reduced from an angelic being to a monstrous and serpentine creature, listening sadly as Adam thunders, "Out of my sight, thou Serpent, that name best/ Befits thee with him leagu'd, thyself as false / And hateful; nothing wants, but that thy shape, / Like his, and colour Serpentine may show / Thy inward fraud" (X.867-71). (Sandra M. Gilbert, "Patriarchal Poetry and Women Readers: Reflections on Milton's Bogey," Proceedings of the Modern Language Association, Vol. 93, No. 3 (May, 1978), page 372B)
More tomorrow, perhaps, but don't forget meantime that Adam is also partly assimilated to the serpentine Satan, as we have already seen in the fact that both are depicted as eating their fill.