How do men and women see each other in Paradise Lost?
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It is clear from Book IX of this Christian epic that men and women look upon each other in a way that a modern day audience might well consider to be stereotypical. Adam sees Eve as being weaker than himself and in need of protection, and Eve has to request permission from Adam, being her lord and master, to do what she wants to do, reflecting her subservient role and her lesser importance. Consider how Eve asks permission from Adam for them to work by themselves in the Garden of Eden. Adam says in response to her plea a statement that clearly defines his own notions of gender roles and how he sees women:
...for nothing lovelier can be found
In woman, than to study household good,
And good works in her husband to promote.
Men see women in this text therefore as being naturally bound to domestic tasks and playing a supportive role in helping their husband. In the same way, Adam also identifies that it is the male who provides care and protection to the female when he urges his wife not to leave him:
...Leave not the faithful side
That gave thee being, still shades thee and protects.
The wife, where danger or dishonour lurks,
Safest and seemliest by her husband stays,
Who guards her, or with her the worst endures.
Women are therefore presented as being in need of protection from men and are thus considered to be the "weaker" sex, unable to operate by themselves. It is interesting that Eve feels the need to rebel somewhat against this idea of Adam's by insisting that they do work apart. Of course, Milton uses this to reinforce basic gender stereotypes: it is when she is away from her husband that Eve is successfully tempted, thus triggering the Fall of Man.
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