In John Milton's Paradise Lost, how does the relationship between Adam and Eve differ before and after the fall?
In John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, the relationship between Adam and Eve changes radically after the fall in Book 9. The relationship between the first couple, as it is presented in Book 4 (for instance), emphasizes mutual love of God and of one another; their relationship after the fall, however, is characterized first by lust and then by bickering.
In Book 4, Milton reports that Adam was devoted to God and that Eve was devoted to God by being devoted to Adam (“He for God only, she for God in him” [4.299]). Only love of God, according to Renaissance Christians, could result in a true and proper love of another human being or of any other aspect of creation. Because Adam loves God first and foremost, he loves Eve appropriately. Later, when Adam and Eve become separated from God, their love for one another quickly deteriorates. Even the sexual encounters between Adam and Eve before the fall exemplify “Simplicity and spotless innocence” (4.318). Their relationship is hierarchical in the sense that Adam is above Eve on the so-called “Great Chain of Being,” but a hierarchical relationship need not be an exploitative one. Just as parents enjoy greater power than their offspring but never (ideally) abuse that power and in fact are willing to make almost any sacrifice for the children they love, so God enjoys greater power than Adam, and Adam enjoys greater power than Eve, but relations in each case are rooted in true love and thus are never exploitative. This kind of ideal relationship between Adam, Eve, and God is exemplified, for example, when Adam, speaking to Eve, says,
“Sole partner and sole [that is, chief] part of all these joys,
Dearer thyself than all; needs must the Power
That made us, and for us this ample world
Be infinitely good . . . ." [4.411-14]
In other words, Adam here expresses his great love of Eve, but he also infers that their mere existence must imply the existence of a great creator who loves them even more than they love each other, and whom they should therefore love in turn.
After Adam and Eve break their loving bond with God in Book 9, their own relationship quickly crumbles. Earlier Adam and Eve had made genuine love; now they merely have lustful sex, exploiting each other’s bodies rather than loving each other’s souls through bodily union. Thus Milton writes of Adam that he, inflamed with fleshly lust,
. . . on Eve
Began to cast lascivious eyes, she him
As wantonly repaid; [so that] in lust they burn . . . [9.1013-15]
Immediately after they have mere sex, they begin to argue, each accusing the other of responsibility for the fall. Neither accepts personal responsibility at this point. Instead, Milton says of them at the very end of Book 9,
Thus they in mutual accusation spent
The fruitless hours, but neither self-condemning,
And of their vain contést appeared no end. (9.1187-89).
Eventually they will accept responsibility for the fall, but until then their earlier mutual love has vanished. By failing to love God properly, they have ceased to love each truly other as well.