Framing Eve in "Paradise Lost"
Norris, Dale Bailey
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Although John Milton's Paradise Lost presses readers towards fashioning Eve as a temptress, the text simultaneously invites an interpretation Eve as a composition of active goodness. Readers, however, tend to accept inherited cultural stereotypes and ideological constructs of Eve as a temptress because those stereotype visual and verbal constructs feed what readers have always "known." Chapter One, "Eve in Art", describes and analyzes selected features of the iconographic milieu from which John Milton composed his Eve. Not surprisingly, the pictorial tradition of Eve as temptress shaped Milton's verbal construction of her. Chapter Two, "The Art of Eve, "explores how the text problematizes readers traditional perception of Eve as temptress by manipulating epic similes. Readers compare and contrast Eve to other temptresses; the contradictions are exploited, and readers are forced to make choices about Eve. Here, psychoanalysis can help explore how readings of Eve represent male systems of sexuality which position her firmly within patriarchal codes. Indeed, even Eve's choices about reading herself are preempted in the awakening as she becomes looked upon, no longer a subject but one subjected to a series of male gazes. Finally, Eve awakens to find something already discovered by the reader--the inescapability of being a creature of culture steeped in the myths of male primacy. Chapter Three, "Sharing Satan's Gaze," focuses on how the text sets up rhetorical obstacles, chiefly by positioning readers in alignment with Satan's gaze especially at moments when they are looking at Eve. Here again, psychoanalytic theory demonstrates the way the patriarchal unconscious has structured, even predetermined, ways of seeing women. The theory advances the reader's understanding of the patriarchal order in which women, including Eve are caught. Readers share Satan's gaze, a flawed and inaccurate picture of Eve that reveals the iconographic tradition as diabolical. Finally, my thesis suggests a view of Paradise Lost as constructed so that readers are put to the test: they are forced to deal with calculated contradictions, rhetorical confusions, and perspectives which keep expectations in flux--all imbedded for instructive purpose--to teach the reader to choose, and to teach the inevitability of choice.
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