Purpose Found: Conditions of Meaningful Existence, Selfhood and the Role of the Other in John Milton's Paradise Lost
Date of Award
Honors Thesis (Open Access)
Colby College. English Dept.
While Biblical interpretations of Genesis posit God as omnipotent creator and teacher, in John Milton's Paradise Lost it is Adam and Eve‟s relationship and interactions with one another that make them who they are and mold them into who they become. The Adam and Eve of Paradise Lost are true characters, and dynamic ones at that. Rather than serve an allegory or work to create a lofty moral lesson, Adam and Eve grow through speech, desire, and language, interfacing with one another in the spirit of true human curiosity and self-discovery. I first explored this observation that Milton's Adam and Eve are more restricted by God than they are created by him in a paper for my British Literary History class, in which I examined conditions of meaningful existence for the characters in Paradise Lost and came to the conclusion that for Adam and Eve, existence is only worthwhile when they have each other. Here I argue that in fact Adam and Eve‟s experiences of and with each other ultimately create their senses of self.
Adam is not merely "lonely" as Mary Nyquist suggests in her essay "Gendered Subjectivity in Paradise Lost , he is incomplete until he has Eve (512). He cannot know true "happiness," "delight" or feel fully formed without another who reflects back to him the impact of his own actions and words (8. 365,391). At the same time, Eve awakens to the realities of her own human self and nature as a female, perceiving herself through her interactions with Adam and defining her role in Eden for herself rather than through God‟s instructions. Essentially, by interacting with one another, Adam and Eve create a mirroring dynamic that allows them to see how much more similar they are to each other than they are to God. Yet this alignment also illuminates their differences as individualls, allowing them to form autonomous senses of selves that are ultimately brought together not through ignorance or blind obedience but through the authenticity of human love.
Adam and Eve, God, John Milton, Paradise Lost, Gendered Subjectivity, self perception
Recommended CitationSawch, Anna, "Purpose Found: Conditions of Meaningful Existence, Selfhood and the Role of the Other in John Milton's Paradise Lost" (2011). Honors Theses. Paper 614.
Colby College theses are protected by copyright. They may be viewed or downloaded from this site for the purposes of research and scholarship. Reproduction or distribution for commercial purposes is prohibited without written permission of the author.