• Jessie Wolf

‘Paradise Lost’: Ignorance is bliss.

The Fall of Man occurs when Eve, and then Adam, partake in the forbidden fruit which grows on the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden. But why is knowledge so heinous that it constitutes the beginning of eternal sin? Furthermore, what does it suggest about society that Eve was the first person to strive for further knowledge, yet some women are denied even a basic education?

In the depiction of Eden in Paradise Lost, the tree of knowledge grows beside the tree of life, and Adam refers to it as “next to life, our death” (84) suggesting the attainment of knowledge is, to Adam at least, equal to dying. However, religious academics have also suggested “that these two trees were in reality different aspects of a single tree” (Bradshaw, 49) and, arguably, “by looking in certain ways, one leaves unexamined other ways of understanding” (Kleinman and Suryanarayanan, 495). This means that the focus on the tree of knowledge could hinder Adam and Eve’s understanding of the tree of life, as neither Adam, nor Eve, understand “whate’er death is,/Some dreadful thing no doubt” (90). The enjambment used emphasises the almost comic lack of understanding, having all of their ‘knowledge’ and reason handed to them by God, and if knowledge and life are so intertwined, could knowledge lead to a better life?

Symbolically, having the two trees, life and knowledge, together highlights the prescriptivism of formalised religion; the only knowledge allowed to Adam is from God and Eve’s then comes from Adam, demanding obedience from each in return. As the mouthpiece of his Creator, Adam argues “yet happiest, if ye seek no happier state, and know to know no more” (100); particularly aimed at Eve when he tells her “to know no more is woman’s happiest knowledge” (96), highlighting the distinction between male and female knowledge. This is still relevant in today’s society where women are denied the right to an education in some parts of the world. Satan draws further attention to this when he muses “Knowledge forbidden suspicious, reasonless” (93). This suspicion is what Satan preys upon when he convinces Eve to eat the fruit, for why would God not want his children to have the knowledge that would make them more like Him? And if Satan himself thinks this is suspicious, should we not also?

Bradshaw, J. “The Tree of Knowledge as the Veil of the Sanctuary.” Ascending the Mountain of the Lord: Temple, Praise, and Worship in the Old Testament. Edited by Jeffrey R. Chadwick, Matthew J. Grey, and David Rolph Seely, Deseret Book Company, 2013, pp 49–65.
Kleinman, Daniel Lee, and Sainath Suryanarayanan. “Dying Bees and the Social Production of Ignorance.” Science, Technology, & Human Values, vol. 38, 2013, pp. 492–517.
Milton, J. Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. HarperCollins, 2013.
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