Who is most responsible for the Fall of Adam and Eve in Milton’s Paradise Lost Book IX ?
In Paradise Lost John Milton sought to “justify the ways of God to man”, as is noted in the opening
of the Poem adapted from the third book of Genesis. Milton teases the reader, notably in Book
IX, with the culpability for the fall of mankind, and since its publication ,even more so with a
modern readership, this has been greatly debated. While initially one must alleviate God’s
responsibility for the fall of mankind in Paradise Lost Book IX due to Milton’s investment in
typical ecclesiastical doctrine and rejection of determinist lines of thinking, there is no doubt
that the three characters which inhabit the garden of Eden in Book IX, Adam, Eve and Satan
respectively show behaviour that could deposit blame on them. This therefore forces us either
to reconcile 17th century readership of Eve’s responsibility which seemingly is most likely, or
alternatively portion blame either with Adam or with the debased serpentine Satan.
While God is not a noted character in Book IX of Paradise Lost a select few maintain that
responsibility for the fall of mankind in fact falls on him. It appears however, this must be taken
as a fallacious reading of Book IX, as Milton’s insertion of free will into his understanding of the
Christian God of the Old testament, as far as a reading of the poem is concerned leads to a
recognition of God as an entirely just ruler, who is thus irreproachable. While Milton does not
entirely justify God in book IX, this is due to his previous exculpation of him beforehand in Book
III. The justification Milton grants God in Book III is seemingly synonymous with ideas from his
speech on liberty Areopagitica (1644), as God states “Not free, what proof could they have given
sincere / Of true allegiance” , explicitly outlining Milton’s personal theodicy while seemingly
exculpating God from criticisms that might arise. Without Milton’s insertion of such a defense, it
could be argued that God’s omnipotence, omnibenevolence and omniscience ultimately would
deposit blame on him for the fall due to the inability to reconcile suffering in the face of God’s
characteristics, but instead God created man “sufficient to have stood, though free to fall”, again
reinforcing Milton’s belief that as an omnibenevolent being, granting free will is the most loving
thing to do. In Paradise Lost book IX it appears Eve’s hamartia is ultimately her pride, and
notable arguments have arisen regarding the cause of such pride and ambition displayed in Eve.
As Eve questions “for inferior, who is free?”, it seems apparent that God’s creation of Eve as an
inferior being created ‘from the rib of man’ partially causes Eve’s predisposition to equalling, or
even surmounting her husband in the Great Chain Of Being. While it can be argued this inquiry
is merely an indication of Eve’s postlapsarian state, adopting a feminist readership could
possibly insinuate God’s...