Adam’s Response to Eve’s Dream
In book five of Milton’s epic Paradise Lost, Eve has a dream that someone (Satan) tempts her to eat the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge. Adam wakes Eve from her sleep, to which Eve is relieved to see his face. She narrates her dream to Adam, and Adam’s response to Eve’s frightening dream is what this paper will be centered on. I pose the question: Is Adam’s response to Eve’s dream fulfilling his duty to his wife or is it putting both of them in danger? By using reason as his guide, Adam does fulfill his duty to protect his wife, but only to a certain extent. Using only reason to fulfill his duty to protect Eve, Adam does not consider the consequences that will occur when the hierarchy of faculty psychology is flipped, which ultimately puts both of them in danger.
Throughout Paradise Lostthe audience, as well as Adam and Eve, are aware that there is a hierarchy in human relationship, where male is superior to female. When Adam and Eve are first introduced in book four, it’s made clear that “true authority [is] in men” (II.295) and Eve will find “God in him,” referring to Adam (II.299). Since Milton sets up Adam and Eve in this hierarchical order, it’s quite obvious that one of Adam’s jobs is to lead Eve. Adam embodies true authority, and it’s only through him that Eve can seek God, therefore Adam has a distinct duty to his wife that he must abide by. Larry L. Langford discusses the diverse roles that Adam and Eve hold in Paradise. Langford argues that Adam and Eve both sought equal companions, but instead, God “establishes a patriarchy in Eden and designate(s) the subjectivities of Adam and Eve by assigning to each a particular status” (131). Although this sounds negative because it acknowledges Adam’s patriarchal power over Eve, Langford is quick to recognize that Adam “does not consider her a thing to be possessed” (131). Langford is claiming that the hierarchy of Adam and Eve is what God ultimately planned for paradise. He says, “The power and privilege Adam gains by his stewardship over his wife and the garden seem to accomplish God’s intended purpose” (Langford, 132). Adam intends to glorify God in any way he can, thus he takes on the role of leader in his marriage. By stewarding his wife, Adam is fulfilling his duty as a husband.
When Eve wakes up from her dream, she immediately turns to Adam for guidance. The first thing Eve says to Adam is, “O sole in whom my thoughts find all repose, / My glory, my perfection, glad I see / thy face” (V.28-30). Here we see how explicit Adam’s role is in his marriage. Eve looks to him for repose, which is rest from physical or mental exertion. Her dream makes her weary, and she looks to Adam for solace. In fulfilling his duty to his wife, and thus fulfilling God’s will, Adam consoles Eve using faculty psychology. He tells Eve that she hasn’t sinned because she was asleep. Therefore, reason was not involved in her decision making. Adam assures Eve by saying, “But know that in the soul / Are many lesser faculties that serve / Reason as chief; among these Fancy next / Her office holds” (V.100-03). Adam purely uses the hierarchical order of reason over fancy as his means to put Eve’s mind at ease.
By only using reason to convince Eve that no evil can come from her dream, Adam puts both of them at risk of falling. He does not consider whether reason may ever come second in the hierarchical order of faculty psychology. Adam is certain that reason will never fail and tells Eve that what happened in her dream will never happen when she’s awake. He says, “That what in sleep thou didst abhor to dream, / Waking thou never wilt consent to do” (V.120-21). Adam’s use of the word ‘never’ strongly shows his reliance on reason. However, I contend that Adam’s immense confidence in reason over fancy contributes to the future consequences they face when Eve is tempted (by reason and fancy) to eat from the tree of knowledge. As previously mentioned, Adam and Eve were designed to have different roles within their marriage. David Miciks in “Miltonic Marriage and the Challenge to History in Paradise Lost” asserts that Eve’s dream again shows “the gap between Eve’s vulnerable, troubled enjoyment and Adam’s effort to make sense of this enjoyment by warding off its immediacy, by giving a theory of it that reduces its bewildering impact” (21). Although I don’t think Eve finds enjoyment in her tempting dream, I do see her dream as evidence that she is prone to fancy rather than reason. Instead of considering that fancy could have more value than just “imaginations” and “airy shapes,” (V.105) Adam quickly wards off any possibility of its impact. Miciks also discusses that some readers of Paradise Lost ally with “Adam’s wariness about experience, and his guarded loyalty to God’s commands” (21). In one sense, this seems like the most logical thing Adam can do: stay loyal to God’s commandments. However, Adam’s strict obedience to God prevents him from seeing what could happen if fancy were superior to reason.
When looking at book nine—Eve and Adam’s ultimate fall—in light of book five, many parallels can be made. Eve proposes to Adam that she should go off alone to complete her tasks in the garden. She addresses Adam with, “Hear what to my mind first thoughts present; / Let us divide our labors” (IX.213-14). Although it’s not wise to work separately, an idea comes to Eve’s mind and she wants to explore it. Like in her dream, Eve is drawn to fancy over reason and wishes to experience what it’s like to be independent. Mikics offers the view that Eve “incarnates a thoughtful individuality that shows up Adam’s overanx-ious obedience to the word of God” (Mikics, 23). This dynamic that Mikics offers is very evident when Eve pleas with Adam to work separately. Adam, of course, is not a fan of her plan and in response tells her, “leave not the faithful side/ That gave thee being, still shades thee and protects. / The Wife, where danger or dishonourlurks, / Safest and seemliest by her Husband staies, / Who guards her” (IX.265-68). From this, we can tell that Adam again is using reason to convince Eve that it’s dangerous to be apart from one another. Not only does he think it’s logical/correct to stay together, Adam is fulfilling his duty to ‘shade thee and protect’ and to ‘guard her.’ Adam does his best to keep Eve next to him, but he eventually gives in and lets Eve walk alone in the garden. Adam’s resolve to let Eve work alone is another example of how Adam doubts the influence that fancy can have on one’s mind. Like Mikics says, Adam is anxious to obey God, but his overwhelming focus on obeying God does not allow him to support Eve’s fancy. Instead, Adam settles and lets Eve depart from him. He likely suspects that Eve will be safe if she is guided by reason and obeys God’s one rule, but we know this is not the case.
Adam tries to convince Eve to work alongside him using reason as a persuasive tool. Similarly, Adam tries to comfort Eve using reason after she awakes from her dream. In both situations, Adam is whole-heartedly seeking to fulfill his role as a husband. He has a duty to keep his wife safe. Deontologically speaking, Adam appears to be doing the best that he can. But, I argue that his focus on obeying his duty to Eve is clouding his mind of what potential consequences are lurking in the garden. As Mikics says, Adam and Eve can be read as uniquely different individuals. Eve has a dream that signifies fancy, emotion, and curiosity. On the other hand, Adam is her repose, protector, and evokes reason. A Milton critic Kristin McColgan engages the idea of a reciprocative relationship that is necessary for Adam and Eve’s relationship. She writes, “While reason, contemplation, and conversation are vital components of human love, uniting “Soul” to “Soul,” feeling, passion, and desire are equally necessary, drawing “Flesh to mix with Flesh” (81-2). This argument reveals that reason does not always outrank fancy. Rather, the two senses have to work together. Adam’s failure to recognize the significant role that fancy plays in Eve’s mind prevents him from analyzing the dangers in Eve’s dream. Adam claims that “reason joining or disjoining, frames / All what we affirm or deny” (V.106-07). Just as Adam says Eve will “never” consent to the sins in her dreams, he also uses the absolute “all” to convey that reason is chief. As a noun, an absolute is a principle/value that is regarded as universally valid. But reason is not a completely valid approach, for it’s possible that if Adam’s reason were enough, Eve would not have eaten the fruit. Adam maintains reason and Eve generally maintains fancy, yet they both fall to sin. Therefore, we know that neither of these two senses in faculty psychology are successful independent from one another. This leads to another point that McColgan makes about reciprocity. She argues that “Milton’s views fall somewhere between these extremes largely because he envisions a universe based on both reciprocity (a sharing of the abundant gifts of male and female) and hierarchy” (76). The extremes she refers to are reason (Adam) and emotion (Eve). Like McColgan argues, Milton’s ideal relationship would have a balance of emotion and reason, yet the male remains superior to the female. However, we see in Adam’s response to Eve’s dream and in his conversation with Eve before the fall, that using reason as chief support does not work. After all, Eve chooses to pursue her fancy and eats the forbidden fruit.
In looking at Adam’s reasonable response to Eve after her dream, it’s evident that Adam fulfills his duty as a husband to protect Eve. But, Adam doesn’t know that reason alone will not always keep Eve safe. In book five, Adam is able to reassure Eve that dreaming does not influence what she does in the day, for reason is not involved. Yet in book nine, Adam’s tactic to keep Eve safe using reason and logic fails, for she leaves his side and is tempted by the serpent. In this example, Adam seeks to keep his wife safe, but reason does not allow him to fulfill this goal. Reciprocity, as McColgan says, is needed in order to balance out the faculty of psychology hierarchy. Reason alone proves dangerous in book nine. But, synthesizing reason and fancy will allow Adam to protect his wife, and in turn, avoid dangerous consequences of a flipped hierarchy.
Kerrigan, William, and Rumrich, John, and Fallon, Stephen M., editors. The Complete Poetry and Essential Prose of John Milton. The Modern Library, 2007.
Langford, Larry L. “Adam and the Subversion of Paradise.” Studies in English Literature, vol. 34, no. 1, 1994, pp. 119-134.
McColgan, Kristen Pruitt. “Abundant Gifts: Hierarchy and Reciprocity in “Paradise Lost.”” South Central Review, vol. 11, no. 1, 1994, pp. 75-86.
Mikicw, David. “Miltonic Marriage and the Challenge to History in Paradise Lost.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language,vol. 46, no. 1, 2004, pp. 20-48.
Milton, John, et al. The Complete Works of John Milton. Oxford University Press, 2008.