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Zimmerman, S.A. (1981). Milton's Paradise Lost: Eve's Struggle for Identity. Am. Imago, 38(3):247-267.

(1981). American Imago, 38(3):247-267

Milton's Paradise Lost: Eve's Struggle for Identity

Shari A. Zimmerman

For the last three centuries Milton's Eve has been viewed largely through a male lens which sees femininity as vain and seductive, as well as infantile and dependent. Although this view is clearly evident in Paradise Lost, especially through the eyes of the divine voice, Adam, Satan, and the narrator, it seems to me that Eve is much more complex a figure. Milton may tell “the story of woman's secondness, her otherness, and how that otherness leads inexorably to her demonic anger, her sin, her fall,” but he tells another story as well, one that sensitively reveals Eve's desire for a separate and secure self. By looking directly at her actions and comments, and beyond the poem's many imposed visions of her character, we find a woman who is in search of her identity, something she “surrenders” almost from the outset and tries to regain throughout the poem. Eve's actions reflect the ways in which each of us strives to secure a sense of self in accordance with an innate human paradox: the desire to be both separate from and united with another person without losing oneself in either isolation or fusion. As we watch Eve divide from Adam, we glimpse her struggle for autonomy, a way out of what becomes for her an all too enclosing relationship that stifles rather than a benign relationship that nurtures. But after division, having identified with Satan's denial of human interdependency, Eve loses herself in feelings of unconnectedness and isolation. Consequently, she tries to recover her link to Adam. Her drive to be both “apart” from and “a part” of him is plagued by an ambivalence that surrounds the constitution of all human identity.


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