May 1, 2013
Flawed Reasoning, Dreams, and Eve’s Flight in Paradise Lost
Milton’s Paradise Lost gives readers a deeper, more complex understanding of the mental workings and reasoning patterns of Adam and Eve. Instead of just portraying the fall as a single, straight-forward event, Milton’s epic poem reveals the underside of not only Eve’s mortal decision but Adam’s as well, along with the fears, anxieties, desires, and repressions leading up to such choices. If we look at it with help from the theories of Sigmund Freud and John Keats, the fall becomes multi-faceted, and all of which make our holy ancestors more fallible and understandingly human. In order to truly delve into the minds of Adam and Eve, we need to understand their imaginations at the level of easiest access: their dreams.
We come to understand that the dream operates as the most impressionable state for Adam and Eve because God uses it as a buffer between Adam and the Son in book VIII. Adam recalls the epiphany:
When suddenly stood at my head a dream,
Whose inward apparition gently moved
My fancy to believe I yet had being,
And lived: one came, methought, of shape divine,
And said, Thy mansion wants thee, Adam, rise… (289-96)
Here, though Adam’s sense remains “drowsed” and “untroubled,” he can still perceive and learn from the Son (289). Therefore, we see that Milton’s God understands that in the dream state the human being’s imagination lies open and most susceptible to emotions, lessons, and gentle reprimanding. In a letter, John Keats states, “What the imagination seizes as beauty must be truth—whether it existed before or not” (“To Benjamin Bailey, 22 Nov 1817”). Therefore, what Adam and Eve learn in their fragile dreams they perceive to be truth; Milton uses the notion of the dream to help them gain knowledge from divine beings without being frightened or likely to use the incorrect steps of reasoning. As we come to find out, though our pre-lapsarian ancestors filter all decisions through right Christian reason, they can still be incorrect or hasty. Acting on incorrect reason or giving into human desires, according to Carl Jung in his essay “Confrontation with the Unconscious,” means that one feels the need to live up to their “hero idealism,” and in doing so they turn their back on higher reason. We interact with our hero figure in dreams, and in Jung’s own dream diary he writes, “My heroic idealism had to be abandoned, for there are higher things than the ego’s will, and to these one must bow” (82). Adam and Eve struggle with the ego’s will and end up giving in to it by failing to abandon their “heroic idealism” and human desires. In Paradise Lost, both Adam and Eve repress desires or fears that are experienced in dreams; the said fears and desires are then found out to be truths that lead, through improper reasoning, to the fall of mankind.
In Eve’s dream, she represses her desire to eat the fruit and obtain godlike knowledge of good and evil along with mortality; therefore, when the serpent presents the fruit to her, Eve’s reasoning fails her making the desire she repressed a reality, resulting in her fall. Angels discover Satan crouched over Eve’s ear attempting to “reach/ The organs of her fancy, and with them forge/ Illusions as he list, phantasms and dreams” (801-3). In the very least, Satan wishes to “raise/ At least distempered, discontented thoughts,/ Vain hopes, vain aims, inordinate desires/ Blown up with high conceits engendering pride” (806-9) We as readers have to carefully observe Milton’s meaning here, because he insinuates that Satan “might taint” Eve, but we cannot be certain that he achieves his goal because he, much to his surprise, gets interrupted (804).
When we evaluate Eve’s dream, we have to look at it as coming from her own imagination and reasoning. In her slumber, an angel leads her to the forbidden tree from which “He plucked, he tasted” and she feels a “damp horror” at his bold deed (V, 65). After eating the fruit, he tempts her by saying “Taste this, and be henceforth among the gods/ Thyself a goddess, not to be earth confined” (V, 77-8). Here, the angel appeals to Eve’s pride and desire for godlike knowledge, something we assume that Eve would not have without the help of Satan. However, when he holds the fruit to her mouth, she confesses, “So quickened appetite, that I, methought,/ Could not but taste” (V, 85-6). Her appetite here does not refer to her being hungry; rather, she desires knowledge of the gods. To understand what this really means for the outcome of Eve’s decision, we must return again to John Keats, who says that “Imagination and its empyreal reflection is the same as human life and its spiritual repetition” (Wasserman 363). Therefore, her desire to eat the fruit and obtain godlike knowledge has been lying latent in her state of consciousness, but in her unconsciousness, her reasoning runs amiss to reveal her true desires. After Eve thinks herself capable of eating the fruit in the dream, she recalls that “Forthwith up to the clouds/ With him I flew” (V, 86-7). Her flight represents her desire to cling to her immortality and avoid the mortality that disobedience will bring. Sigmund Freud suggests that flight represents the urge for immortality, or the ego’s defense against uncomfortable truths regarding mortality (Bloom). In addition to Freud’s interpretation of flight in dreams, Jung’s compensatory and prospective functions of dreams that he presents in his book Dreams also help us interpret Eve’s cognition. According to him, dreams are compensatory with his theory: “Just as the body reacts purposively to injuries or infections of any abnormal conditions, so the psychic functions react to unnatural or dangerous disturbances with purposive defense-mechanisms” (39). In addition to dreams being defense mechanisms, they are also prospective: they are a “preliminary outline or sketch” that “sometimes outlines the solution of a conflict” (41). Knowing this, we can assume that Eve learns in her dream that disobeying the word of God in regard to the fruit on the forbidden tree results in mortality, not sudden death, since her flight serves as a defense mechanism against such an uncomfortable truth or “dangerous disturbance”. With this knowledge, Eve has a great debate over tasting the fruit when tempted by the serpent (which was forseen in her dream), and her pre-lapsarian reasoning falls short.
The serpent hardly has to tempt Eve for her to eat the fruit since she already has the knowledge of disobedience bringing mortality and lacks the proper defenses against Satan; therefore, her fall does not depend merely on one simple mistake but on her impatience with reason. The snake tempts Eve, “Queen of this universe, do not believe/ Those rigid threats of death; ye shall not die:/ How should ye? By the fruit? It gives you life/ To knowledge” (IX, 685-7). This method of temptation plays on Eve’s reasoning and preys on her human ego and desire since she learned in her dream that the fruit would make her mortal, not simply kill her that day. The serpent then plays on Eve’s appetite for knowledge by saying “your eyes that seem so clear,/ Yet are but dim, shall perfectly be then/ Opened and cleared, and ye shall be as gods” (IX, 706-7). As we learned earlier from her dream, Eve has an appetite for the knowledge of the gods even though she knows disobedience results in mortality. Because she lacks the proper reasoning, fails to abandon her unreasonable desires, disobeys higher reason, and has inadequate defenses against Satan, he can manipulate her and “Into her heart too easy entrance won:/ Fixed on the fruit she gazed, which to behold/ Might tempt alone, and in her ears the sound/ Yet rung of his persuasive words, impregned/ With reason, to her seeming, and with truth” (IX, 734-8). Easy entrance was won into her heart by Satan because her reasoning has already been provoked in her dream, weakening her defenses. His words rang with reason and truth because in her lucid state she imagined obtaining the beautiful truth of the Gods, and if we follow Keats’ theory, what registers as beauty in imagination is truth. Eve hastily discards reason before she eats, saying “In the day we eat/ Of this fair fruit, our doom is, we shall die./ How dies the serpent? He hath eaten and lives,/ And knows, and speaks, and reasons, and discerns/ Irrational til then” (IX 762-6). Eve’s early abandonment of reason appears to be based solely on the serpent’s being alive and not dead at that very moment. She hastily surpasses further reasoning and gives in too quickly to her human ego implanted by the dream, even though she knows disobedience brings mortality, since in her dream she flees in hopes of clinging to immortality. Therefore, Eve’s fall does not simply occur with her tasting of the fruit but rather with her abandonment of reason and her use of free will; she chooses disobedience and knowledge of the gods though she knows full well that she cannot have immortality once she has eaten the fruit.
Adam’s dream and his recollection of it to Raphael show evidence of repression of his fear that Eve will turn her back on him. Just like Eve’s dream, his dream becomes truth and results in a lapse in reason, which follows Jung’s prospective function of the dream. He tells Raphael that he was dreaming during Eve’s creation from his rib: “Though sleeping, where I lay, and saw the shape/ Still glorious before whom awake I stood;/ Who stooping opened my left side, and took/ From thence a rib” (VIII, 463-6). When he wakes, he finds Eve “not far off,/ Such as I saw her in my dream, adorned/ With what all earth or heaven could bestow/ To make her amiable” (VIII, 481-4). This recollection, readers surely notice, leaves out a crucial part of Eve’s creation: her initial flight from Adam. In Eve’s narrative, she recalls that as she bends down to look in a smooth lake and sees her own beautiful reflection, “there I had fixed/ Mine eyes till now, and pined with vain desire” (IV, 465-6). God tells Eve to follow him to Adam, and when she sees him, she confesses:
Till I espied thee, fair indeed and tall,
Under a platan, yet methought less fair,
Less winning soft, less amiably mild,
Than that smooth watery image; back I turned,
Thou following cried’st aloud, Return fair Eve… (IV, 487-91)
Eve turns her back and flees from Adam, and he calls out to her, not to be separated. Adam leaves Eve’s flight out of his story to Raphael which means that his fear of Eve’s rejection runs deep within him. Again, following Freud’s theory, flight signifies the urge for immortality and the rejection of uncomfortable truths regarding mortality (Bloom). Knowing this, we can further analyze Adam’s pious praising of Eve and his desire to remain connected to her. After he tells Eve’s creation story to Raphael, he says of he and Eve: “Father and mother, and to his wife adhere;/ And they shall be one flesh, one heart, one soul” (VIII, 498-99). His desire to be one with Eve even reaches a state of worship, where he places her dangerously high above the Divine. He gushes, “so absolute she seems/ And in her self complete, so well to know/ Her own, that what she wills to do or say,/ Seems wisest, virtuousest, descreetest, best;/ All higher knowledge in her presence falls/ Degraded” (VIII, 547-51). Adam’s god-like placement of Eve shows his need to remain united with her and not have her abandon him. His fear of abandonment, repressed and hidden in his re-telling to Raphael, becomes reality after Eve falls to disobedience in the garden.
Adam’s fear of Eve’s turning her back on him comes true after Eve eats the fruit; his desire to not be separated from her results in his fall that follows Eve’s. After Eve disobeys God and eats the fruit, she debates keeping the new knowledge to herself, saying:
But to Adam in what sort
Shall I appear? shall I to him make known
As yet my change, and give him to partake
Full happiness with me, or rather not,
But keep the odds of knowledge in my power
Without copartner? (IX, 816-21)
Here, Eve wonders if she should not include Adam in her newfound “happiness.” We as readers cannot imagine Adam having a similar debate, especially after his excessive praising of Eve. Therefore, we come to understand that their uncomfortable truths or fears they repress are played out in different ways. When Eve tells Adam she has eaten the fruit, his reasoning becomes hasty in his hopes of staying intact with her. Recalling Jung’s theory, we can see that Adam does not bow to higher reasoning, but obeys his selfish human desires and attempts to live up to his own “hero idealism.” He settles on the fact that the serpent has eaten the fruit and yet lives, so perhaps he and Eve will not die. More importantly, he says of Eve:
Consort with thee, death is to me as life;
So forcible within my heart I feel
The bond of nature draw me to my own,
My own in thee, for what thou art is mine;
Our state cannot be severed, we are one,
One flesh; to lose thee were to lose my self. (IX, 953-60)
Adam’s reasoning stops short at his emotional connection to Eve; he does not think the situation through entirely because he cannot bear the severance from Eve. If death is brought to Eve then he cannot bear to be without her so he accepts death as well, and if knowledge comes to Eve then he also cannot bear to be left behind, so he eats. His fall, like Eve’s, results from faulty reasoning. Though Adam and Eve in the pre-lapsarian world filter their thoughts through right Christian reason, they can still be incorrect or stopped short. Adam here relies on his natural bond to Eve and his similar desire for godlike knowledge as reasonable excuses for partaking in the fall. Adam’s flawed logic stems from his repressed fear of Eve’s abandonment that he first experienced in a dreamlike state. When it becomes a reality, he has to face the very human emotion of potential loss and heartbreak; something that overwhelms Adam and clouds his ability to fully think through Christian reason.
Both Jung and Freud’s theory of dreams and the meaning of flight along with Keats’ concept of the imagination holding the soul’s innermost truth and beauty relate directly to Adam and Eve in Paradise Lost. Jung’s compensatory and prosective functions can be used to analyze Adam and Eve’s dream on the deepest level. According to Freud, flight in a dream represents the urge to cling to immortality. Since both Adam and Eve dreamt of Eve’s flight, they both desire to cling to immortality and flee from mortality and uncomfortable truths. Both of their dreams also uncover repressed fears and truths that eventually come true, therefore proving Keats’ theory that the imagination does in fact hold truths, however uncomfortable they may be. By looking at Adam and Eve through the lenses of both of these theories, we see their flaws in reasoning more clearly. As Jung’s theories tell us, they both fail to abandon the human ego’s desires and follow higher reason. Instead of viewing the fall as a single act committed by Eve and followed by Adam, the reader can now see the steps that led to the failed logic behind the act of disobedience.
Bloom, Harold. “Freud’s Concepts of Defense and the Poetic Will.” Psychiatry and the Humanities. Ed Joseph H Smith, MD. New Haven: Yale UP, 1980: 1-28. Print.
Jung, Carl G. “Confrontation with the Unconscious.” The Essential Jung. Ed Anthony Storr. Princeton, Princeton UP, 1983: 74-84. Print.
–. Dreams. Trans R.F.C. Hull. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1974. Print.
Keats, John. “To Benjamin Bailey, 22 Nov 1817.” Selected Poems and Letters by John Keats. Ed Douglas Bush. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1959: 257-9. Print.
Milton, John. Paradise Lost. John Milton: The Major Works. New York: Oxford UP, 2008: 355-618. Print.