A Sample 'A' Paper

from English 230: Great Narrative Works

Fall 2000


Things to note:

1) The paper has a clearly articulated thesis in the introduction, one that is developed in different ways in each of the paragraphs of the paper.

2) Rather than making numerous points briefly, the student has chosen to concentrate on a specific topic so that s/he can provide an in-depth and extensive interpretation of the text at hand.

2) The student has used a good deal of textual evidence from Paradise Lost to support his/her case.

3) The student never rests at paraprase but always seeks to interpret the descriptions s/he provides.

4) The paper has almost no grammatical and stylistic problems.


The Self as Reflection [note that I have included my marginal comments in red]

The establishment of a patriarchal tradition calls for the submission of the female sex to the male sex and places men at the head of society. In Milton's Paradise Lost, this tradition confines Eve within the boundaries of an inferior role in Paradise—that of Adam's reflection. In establishing himself as head of Paradise, Adam renders Eve not as his "other self" but rather his sub-self. According to Adam's account of Eve's creation in Book VIII, Eve, made from Adam's rib, is the subordinate helper to Adam. But in Eve's account of her own creation in Book IV, she recognizes her completeness. The difference in these accounts shows that Eve has a complete identity and only feigns submission to the patriarchal tradition established in Milton's epic.

Eve recognizes her completeness soon after her creation. When she looks into a lake, she finds her own image fascinating:

"As I bent down to look, just opposite,
A shape within the wat'ry gleam appeared
Bending to look on me, I started back,
It started back, but pleased I soon returned
Pleased it returned as soon with answering looks
Of sympathy and love; there I had fixed
Mine eyes till now, and pined with vain desire." (Milton, Paradise Lost, 4.460- 66)

Eve's experience at the lake is one of recognition of her identity. The fact that she admires her own image shows that she thinks herself complete. Although Eve does not at first realize that the image she sees in the lake is her own, she decides at the moment she sees the image that it is an identity complete enough to fascinate her. Thus, when she learns that the image is her own, she discovers that she herself is a complete, admirable being. [Any other quotations that would fully establish this crucial point? The idea of "completeness" does not automatically follow from this quotation. Without more support/analysis, you are relying too much on Froula to make your point.]

Immediately following this discovery, God gives Eve her role in the patriarchal Paradise: "What thou seest,/ What there thou seest fair creature is thyself" (Milton, 4.467-68). Although Eve has recognized her complete identity, the patriarchal Paradise in which she lives does not. Christine Froula notes in "When Eve Reads Milton: Undoing the Canonical Economy" that "the reflection is not of Eve: according to the voice, it is Eve. As the voice interprets her to herself, Eve is not a self, a subject, at all, she is rather a substanceless image, a mere 'shadow' without object until the voice unites her to Adam" (328). Thus, her role in Paradise is that of a mere reflection of Adam. And as a "shadow," she is not even a copy that is comparable in likeness to Adam but rather a vague image that can only imitate him.

Perhaps this perception of Eve prompts Adam's interpretation of Eve's creation in his account to Raphael in Book VIII. He finds her

"Not obvious, not obtrusive, but retired,
The more desirable, or to say all,
Nature herself, though pure of sinful thought,
Wrought in her so, that seeing me, she turned;
I followed her, she what was honor knew,
And with obsequious majesty approved
My pleaded reason." (Milton, Paradise Lost, 8.504-510)

Adam assumes that Eve runs from him because of her modesty, when, according to Eve's account, she runs from him in order to return to her own image in the lake—one more fair and "amiably mild." Because Adam views Eve as his mere shadow, he does not recognize that Eve has an identity. Apparently, Adam believes in this notion so strongly that he fails to mention Eve's explanation for running from him in his account to Raphael.

Although Eve recognizes her completeness, she also seems to readily accept [split infinitive] her inferior role. When Eve "yields" to Adam after he claims her as his "other half," she agrees to play the role given to her (Milton, 4.488-89). She seemingly subordinates herself to Adam—her "guide/ And head" (Milton, 4.442-43), her "author and disposer" (Milton, 4.653), her "law" (Milton, 4.637). But the fact that Eve has already recognized her identity detracts from the genuineness of such addresses. She plays the role of Adam's reflection because the patriarchal tradition of the epic asks her to do so. Clearly, Eve only feigns submission to Adam and carries with her the image in the lake—her own complete identity. [very interesting, but as of yet not fully substantiated. Such a claim requires further support.]

[Transition here needs to be smoother] In establishing himself as Eve's patriarch, Adam misinterprets God's purposes. Before having Adam name all the creatures of the earth, God tells Adam, "Not only these fair bounds but all the earth/ To thee and to thy race I give" (Milton, 8.338-39.) According to this statement, God's plan is that the entire human race is "lord" of the earth, not that Adam acts as sole leader. But after God grants Adam's wish for a companion, Adam names Eve: "I now see/ Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh, my self/ Before me; woman is her name" (Milton, 8.494-496). It seems that God intends the task of naming to be applied only to the creatures of the earth, "beast, fish, and fowl" (Milton, 8.341). Thus, by naming Eve, Adam symbolically establishes himself as lord not only over the earth and all inhuman creatures living there but also over Eve—a fellow member of the human race. Although Eve is not on the order of the beasts, fish, and fowl of the earth, according to Adam she will always be subordinate to him.

Since Eve has not lived in Paradise as long as Adam has, she naturally might look to Adam for some guidance. But Adam seems to think Eve capable only of receiving this guidance and not of acquiring true knowledge. Adam asks God for a companion so that "by conversation with his like to help,/ Or solace his defects," he can become a more complete human being (Milton, 8.419-20). But Adam's conversations with Eve do not seem to have this helpful, solacing effect. When Eve asks Adam, "But wherefore all night long shine these, for whom/ This glorious sight, when sleep hath shut all eyes?," she expresses that she is in awe of the greatness of Paradise and God's work (Milton, 4.657-58). Eve's question opens for discussion the workings of the universe. She wishes to engage in creative thought, to think of what happens in Paradise while she is unaware. Adam, however, does not recognize this opportunity to engage in helpful, solacing conversation. Instead, he addresses Eve as "daughter of God and man" (Milton, 4.660) and merely explains that "millions of spiritual creatures walk the earth/ Unseen" to praise GodŐs works (Milton, 4. 477-78). In his address, Adam shows that he does not consider Eve his companion but rather his daughter—a subordinate position. Thus, his explanation to Eve for what happens in Paradise after they sleep seems patronizing. He shows that he thinks Eve incapable of conversing on this topic because she, like the beasts, fish, and fowl of the earth, is not "fit to participate/ All rational delight" (Milton, 8.390-91). Adam, thus, continues the patriarchal tradition of the epic by treating Eve as the reflection that the tradition ordains her to be.

The difference in Adam's and Eve's accounts of Eve's creation shows that Adam is denying the existence of Eve's identity. But the fact that he denies that Eve has a complete identity of her own shows that she, in fact, has one. If she did not have an identity, Adam would not have admitted to the possibility of its existence after giving his account of Eve's creation to Raphael:

"when I approach
Her loveliness, so absolute she seems
And in herself complete, so well to know
Her own, that what she wills to do or say,
Seems wisest, virtousest, discreetst, best." (Milton, 8.546-50)

Adam admits that Eve may not be an inferior sub-self to him, for in some aspects, she may prove superior to him. Thus, the innocent and modest Eve of Adam's account belies Adam's true impression of Eve. He admits that he is just as much in awe of Eve's identity as Eve is when she looks into the lake.

Eve's encounter with her image in the lake is not merely a narcissistic experience but rather an awakening to the self. And Adam's denial of the existence of this identity only serves to define Eve as a being complete in herself and separate from him. Although the patriarchal tradition of the epic confines Eve to an existence as Adam's reflection, she is given a chance to show her identity. Her account to Adam, differing from that of Adam's to Raphael, shows her to be Adam's counterpart rather than his sub-part, originating from the rib but separate from the man. Eve establishes herself as the object rather than the shadow, the self rather than the reflection and, ultimately, overturns the patriarchal tradition of the epic.

Works Cited

Froula, Christine. "When Eve Reads Milton: Undoing the Canonical Economy." Critical Inquiry 10 (1983): 321-47.

Milton, John. Paradise Lost. Ed. Scott Elledge. 2nd ed. New York: Norton, 1993.