Is Milton sympathetic or accusatory in his depiction of Eve in Paradise Lost?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is a very interesting question to consider. Of course, it is important to recognise that in the original Biblical narrative, Eve does not come out well, and to a certain extent this can be seen in Milton's portrayal of the mother of all human beings. The key Book to focus on is Book 9, in which the serpent tempts Eve and she succumbs, eating the fruit and then taking it to Adam. Eve goes to Adam with her plan that they separate, and then angrily admonishes Adam when he suggests that this would be a bad idea in case she gives in to the enemy that they both face in the garden. The fact that she is so easily tempted and gives in to recklessly suggests that Adam is accusatory in his presentation of her. Note how he describes her after she has started to eat the fruit:

Greedily she engorged without restraint,

And knew not eating death: satiate at length,

And heightened as with wine, jocund and boon...

The adverb "greedily" and the verb "engorged" does not present her in a sympathetic light, and her apparent inability to conceive what she has done and its import, when it is clear to nature itself what has happened, presents her as a definite guilty party. However, at the same time, Eve can also be seen as a character who craves independence and this is surely something that could be viewed sympathetically. Adam himself is responsible for eating the fruit, and it is unlikely that Adam would have been any stronger when faced by the most persuasive tempter of them all. Thus, overall, it could be argued that Milton presents Eve in an accusatory light, but there is enough evidence to suggest that he does feel some sympathy for her. She is, after all, only human, and when faced with the full might and power of Satan's blandishments, how could she ultimately do anything but succumb?