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Essay on Pointing the Finger in John Milton’s Paradise Lost

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Pointing the Finger in Paradise Lost  


After the fall in Milton’s Paradise Lost, Adam and Eve bicker and blame one another for their decent. First, Adam accuses Eve for her physical act of accepting the apple from Satan and eating it, thus defying God’s decree not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. In retaliation, Eve responds and attempts to not only justify her act, but also to place the blame on Adam. Eve’s reaction is typical of someone who does not like to admit he is wrong.

Eve begins by challenging Adam with an argument that he would have done the same thing had he been in her situation. "[Had’st] thou been there,/ Or here th’ attempt, thou couldst not have discern’d/ Fraud in the Serpent, speaking as he spake" (IX 1148-1150). She is trying to justify her action in Adam’s mind by making him realize he would have acted the same way, and in effect she also hopes to gain his sympathy. This tactic is often effective because we do not tend to choose to recognize faults in others when we realize we are susceptible to the same mistakes. Aristotle recognizes the relationship between eliciting sympathy and making the audience relate to the situation in his Poetics when he describes the ideal character as one who is "true to life" (81). An audience must be able to relate to a falling character, or else they will not pity his plight. In other words, if a speaker wants sympathy from his audience, he must make them "feel his pain."

Eve proceeds in her rebuttal with justification for her action based on the circumstances of the scenario. She argues, "No ground of enmity between us known,/ Why hee should me ill of seek to harm" (II 1151-1152). She seems to imply that a less trusting person would not have listened to the se...


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...ccusation that he did not try hard enough to keep her at his side when he asks, "What could I more?/ I warn’d thee, I admonish’d thee, foretold/ The danger, and the lurking Enemy/ That lay in wait" (IX 1170-1172). No matter how developed any one piece of Aristotle’s triangle seems, it is useless without the other two parts.

If you take a step back and observe this scene of Paradise Lost with your own experiences in mind, you realize how petty the "blame game" can be. Eve tries very hard to use persuasion as a "finger pointing" tool so she can alleviate any guilt of her own. However, she fails. We all must know what it feels like to fail in an argument, yet we still test situations like these sometimes when we do not want to accept full responsibility for something that has gone wrong.

Works Cited

 Milton, John. Paradise Lost. New York: W.W. Norton, 1993.  


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