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John Milton’s “That Day I Oft Remember” (Paradise Lost IV)

In the portion of Paradise Lost Book 4 that begins with "The day I oft recall," John Milton argues for the power ties among the literary characters of which God has the most influence, followed by Adam, and finally Eve. In the odd exploitation of this hierarchical relationship, Eve emerges as a subordinate being, devoid of information about herself and her surroundings, except for a few logical instincts that guide her actions. The power dynamics in the text often establish dominant and subordinate human dichotomies, with Adam put on a higher plane than Eve. Because of the higher authority and knowledge reminiscent of God and Adam in that order, the inevitability of patriarchal discourse becomes vivid. This patriarchy is responsible for the events that unfold later in the text as sin creeps in, and the fall of humankind becomes inevitable. Additionally, the infusion of the poem with patriarchal discourse is responsible for the engendering of the text and the assignment of gender roles and identities to God, Adam and Eve. As a result, “patriarchy,” in its canonical attribution and expression in the text, is both a means and an end to the characters’ engendering and the objectification of femininity, which creates a conflict that eventually leads to the fall of humankind.

In “That day I oft remember,” Eve recalls her nativity, her first meeting with Adam with the voice’s (God’s) direction, and the circumstances surrounding that incident. She remembers her surroundings and even the stream of water that murmurs its way from a cave into the pool that subsequently shows her reflection. Her rationality and sentience are explicated when she vividly describes her surroundings: “…shades…flowers…murmuring sound….waters...caves…liquid plains…heavens…” (Milton “Paradise Lost” 4: 451-456). These memories must have been nostalgic. Her encounter with Adam is sensual, as she refers to him as “…fair indeed and tall…under a platan…” (4: 477-78). Nonetheless, the fear and bewilderment that grips her when she first notices her reflection on the water return upon meeting Adam because his human form is a juxtaposition of that initial encounter with herself. The persona says, “…less amiably milde, then that smooth watry image; back I turned” (4: 479-480). As a result, the textual reference to “That day I oft remember,” is a recollection of the circumstances surrounding Eve’s nativity.

Eve not only remembers this day because of the lost paradise but also because its memories are nostalgic. Her first experience of the world is wondrous and filled with bewilderment. The persona shows this when Eve says, “I…found myself repos’d under a shade of flours…then a murmuring sound of waters issued from a cave and spread, Pure as th'expanse of heavens…" (4: 450-456). This text signifies Eve’s first connection with the world, and having fallen and expelled from paradise makes her long for this day. Therefore, she often remembers this day because it gives her emotional and spiritual memories that she can never have elsewhere, having disrupted the hierarchical relationship they enjoyed with God.

Despite their creation, both Adam and Eve had some unfinished business. This business is the assertion of their identities and gender roles, which, as Milton demonstrates in the latter texts, lead to their eventual fall from Eden and the genesis of their exit and the diminution of their direct communique with God. In the text, the persona recalls Eve saying, “As I bent down to look, just opposite, a Shape within the watry gleam appeared, Bending to look on me..." (4: 460-462). This text demonstrates that despite her sentience and rationality, Eve is knowledge-limited since she cannot even comprehend her own human form as reflected in the water. She relies on God to tell her that the image she sees in the water is herself, and when a similar image is superimposed and manifested in the personhood of Adam, she exhibits similar behavior tendencies. The text depicts her as a naïve person, who does not know much about her surroundings, in contrast to the much knowledgeable Adam, whose knowledge is actively expressed in the presence of others. Already, the patriarchal discourse is evident in the text. The limited knowledge, conferred to her by the existing patriarchy, is what drives her to admire Adam and God, and subsequently to heed Satan’s cunningness regarding becoming equally knowledgeable. As a result, the unfinished business might be settled when Eve closes the knowledge gap between herself and Adam, and Milton suggestively hints Satan’s involvement behind that closure. Its settlement still lingers because Eve is acquiescent of her identity and is yet to begin yearning for more knowledge like that of Adam.

John Milton’s “That day I oft remember” depicts various characters traits about God, Adam and Eve. Earlier before the text, God saw that Adam was lonely and neither of the animals named could offer him the much-needed companionship. Although in Paradise Lost II Adam had requested for a “soul-mate” and a person who could discuss with him equally, God foresees cases of antagonism and a non-mutual relationship. Instead of giving in to Adam’s demands, he creates what Adam lacks: fairness, beauty, and sensuality (4: 468-479). This text implies that God is male, supernatural, all-knowing, and gives what is necessary instead of what is demanded. Although there is a limited explication of Adam's role in the text, the available descriptions indicate that he is more knowledgeable compared to Eve, given that he qualifies her beauty, thereby placing him on a higher hierarchical level compared to Eve. The text depicts Eve on a lower hierarchical level than Adam, bearing in mind her naivety, sensuality, and limited knowledge. She marvels at “How beauty is excelld by manly grace” (4: 490).

The textual constructs show the identity and engendering of the characters. The patriarchal discourse creates an atmosphere of power where God is atop the hierarchy, with Eve on the bottom and Adam in between them. The gender roles are assigned from the binary masculine/feminine roles and follow the biosocial theory of gender construction. The reference to Eve as "Mother of the human race" (4: 475) automatically demonstrate her femininity, and the need for Adam to qualify her beauty suggests her subordination and instantaneously masculinizes Adam, given his intellect and less fair physical appeal when compared to Eve. As a result, the text’s canonical patriarchy where Eve is created to please Adam and is knowledge-deficient causes the fall of humankind when she refuses to acquiesce to her established identity by seeking more knowledge as advised by Satan.

Conclusion

Hierarchy creates power relations among the concerned players. Because of the volatility of the relationships created by the authority-figure-subordinate relationships, one of the players is likely to exhibit non-adherence if they feel that the outcome of that authority maligns or alienates them. Such is the case in John Milton’s Paradise Lost IV, where Eve, considered lower-ranking in the patriarchal hierarchy in the genesis of humankind, refuses to acquiesce to her created identity and submits to Satan’s cunningness to be knowledgeable. As a result, the textual analysis reveals that “patriarchy,” in its canonical attribution and expression in the text, is both a means and an end to the characters’ engendering and the objectification of femininity, which creates a conflict that eventually leads to the fall of humankind.

Work Cited

Milton, John. “That day I oft remember.” In Paradise Lost IV. No date. Lines 440-490. Internet Resource. March 22, 2017.

September 01, 2021
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