Man above woman, or woman above man? For the entirety of human civilization, this question of gender hierarchy has been divisive issue. Regardless, Milton does not hesitate to join the heat of the battle, and project his thoughts to the world. Since the publication of Paradise Lost, many of Milton’s readers have detected in his illustration of the prelapsarian couple, particularly of Adam, a powerful patriarchal sentiment: “he for God only, and she for God in him” (Milton, IV.299). In essence, this idea declares that Adam and Eve possess unequal roles – Adam is better than Eve, as men are better than women, in accordance to the deeply conventional reading of the relations between the sexes. Eve’s purpose for Adam makes her less spiritually pure and thus farther removed from God’s grace.
Throughout literature, especially in Milton’s time, the gender disparity between men and women has been unfairly defined: men are reasonable and therefore should lead, while women are passionate and thus should be led. However, these roles have often been misinterpreted, and have resulted in the idea that only men are reason manifest, while only women are passion incarnate. For example, in The Life and Loves of a She-Devil, Bobbo is rational in his approach to solving problems – count everything in monetary value – while Ruth often cries and evokes great emotion when facing struggles (Weldon, 20-24). However, Milton does not support this conventional idea of gender roles, as oftentimes Eve takes on Adam’s role as the voice of reason in sustaining the Garden of Eden, and vice versa. In Paradise Lost, Milton refutes the hieratical construct of gender inequality, by reversing the roles of Adam and Eve in terms of reason and passion, and instead proposes that the ideal relationship is one of complements and mutual dependence.
Milton makes it difficult for readers to be absolutely sure that Adam represents reason and Eve passion, as Adam’s passion for Eve is the source of his gradual decline into corruption. At first sight, he is spiritually attracted to Eve because she was created from his rib: “His flesh, his bone; to give thee being I lent / Out of my side to thee, nearest my heart, / Substantial life, to have thee by my side” (IV.483-485). Consequently, Adam immediately loves her, since he feels a strong manifestation of himself in her. However, a problem arises when Adam’s love for Eve transforms into passion, two distinct emotions that are identified by the angel Rafael: “In loving thou dost well; in passion not, / Wherein true love consist not. Love refines / The thoughts, and heart enlarges hath his seat in reason” (VIII.588-590). Love and passion are different because the former “refines” reason while the latter corrupts it – passion can be dangerous to reason. However, in his discussion with Rafael, Adam’s initial depiction of Eve hints that he feels both love and passion for Eve. In describing her, Adam says:
Her loveliness, so absolute she seems