John Milton sets up a hierarchical relationship between Adam and Eve by using parallel recollections of their creation. Eve occupies the lower position in the hierarchy. The recollections of their nativities foreshadow the fall of man by setting up a conflict between them, and Milton uses the scenes to demonstrate Adam and Eve's superior/inferior relationship which leads to the fall of man.
Eve's nativity is related by her in book four of Paradise Lost, and it begins at line 449:
That day I oft remember, when from sleep
I first awaked, and found myself reposed
Under a shade of flowers, much wondering where
And what I was, whence thither brought, and how,
These lines relate several important details. Eve was not born as we think of birth today. She was simply created by God. Milton depicts her with some human traits fully realized and others in infancy, but it is clear that Eve was created as an adult, and that she had some powers of reasoning. Milton will later limit her reasoning after he makes the reader aware of it, but it is established here that she is not created "empty" of all knowledge. By Eve's use of the words "oft remember" the reader can assume that she was self aware at the time of her nativity, or at least shortly thereafter. Milton has her wake, as though asleep and bewildered by her surroundings, and her questioning of where she is indicates that she is a sentient and rational being when created. Although similar on the surface, this is quite different from Adam's first recollections: "Straight toward heaven my wondering eyes I turned, / And gazed awhile the ample sky, till raised / By quick instinctive motion up I sprung," (VIII. 257-8). Adam details his motives for acting, where Eve does not. Adam knows, and knew at the time, that he sprung up by instinct, while Eve simply formed a question. Adam not only formed a question, but he then asks the question and acts on his reasoning. While Eve was rational enough to form the sense of her question, she was not rational enough to know why she felt as she did. She is only aware that she had "unexperienced thought" (IV. 457). This small difference is made larger by Milton's depiction of their first attractions, that is, the things that first cause them to be curious.
Eve first notices the sound of water and moves toward it, not knowing why. She looks into the water as she relates: "that seemed to me another sky" and she does not know what it is, except that it appears to be like the sky (IV. 459). God has given her the word for "sky," but not for "lake." She cannot then reason what her reflection is:
As I bent down to look, just opposite,
A shape within the watery 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 had I fixed
Mine eyes till now, and pined with vain desire,
Had not a voice thus warned me, (IV. 460-7)
Here, Eve lacks the ability to comprehend some very basic concepts, yet she
does grasp others. Apparently, she does not know what a human form looks like,
since she uses the word "shape" instead of "face". Oddly though, she knows that
the expression is pleasing, without any experience with what the image
represents. Eve has this knowledge because God gave it to her. She knows that
the "shape" expresses sympathy and love, yet she must be told by the "voice"
that it is her reflection. Her "desire" is her loneliness, which she does not
have the ability to describe, but feels nevertheless. Eve has limited ability to
forge concepts at the time of her creation.
Milton allows certain qualities to be given to Eve at her nativity, but not others. In some respects, he depicts her as an infant in how she reasons, but he allows her reactions and her knowledge to indicate that she has divine knowledge given to her. Adam, on the other hand, seems to have been given more knowledge than Eve.
Adam looks directly upward and marvels at the sky and nature in general. He then has similar reactions as those of Eve, but they are more completely realized and active:
My self I then perused, and limb by limb
Surveyed, and sometimes went ands sometimes ran
With supple joints, and lively vigour led:
But who I was, or where, or from what cause,
Knew not; to speak I tried, and forthwith spake,
My tongue obeyed and readily could name
Whate'er I saw. (VIII. 267-73)
Adam reacts and studies the things that are most outstanding to his form, or
those things that are most noticeable, such as his "supple joints" which
parallel Eve's beauty and her attraction to her own image. He studies his form
rather than simply seeing it. Adam is active in his knowledge, while Eve is
simply a reactionary, yet she does feel what Adam articulates. Eve reacts to
what she hears and sees while Adam reasons. Furthermore, Adam has the ability to
name the things he sees, whereas Eve has only adjectives or general words for
things, like "shape" instead of "face". Adam makes the logical conclusion that a
creator must exist, as he states: "Tell me, if ye saw, how came I thus, how
here? / Not of myself; by some great maker then," (VIII. 277-8). Adam's ability
to reason is superior to that of Eve. His ability to question, formulate a
hypothesis and to ask questions demonstrate his fully formed abilities at the
moment of his creation. Eve does not have these abilities. She can have the
feeling or sensation of a question, and she can act, or react, to what she
senses, but she can reach no conclusions, and her observations are made
Eve's attraction to her own image places her in two positions. First, she is more beautiful than the other works of nature, which is later confirmed by Adam. Second, it demonstrates her fault of vanity. By having Eve's attraction be one of instinct rather than reason, Milton establishes that Eve is less skilled with logic than she is with sensuality. This is consistent with Adam's request for a "soul-mate" in that she compliments him. Eve is softer, more beautiful and more emotional than Adam. Adam is more rational, more "supple" and more self aware than Eve. This is not to infer that the other's qualities are lacking from each other; rather it demonstrates that each has some similarities, but it is their differences that make them attractive to each other.
When Eve first encounters Adam, she recollects quite unabashedly that, "I espied thee, fair indeed and tall, / Under a platan, yet methought less fair, / less winning soft, less amiably mild," than Adam (IV. 477-79). She does not say that Adam is not fair, or soft or mild, but she does say that he is less of those things than she is. She goes on to imply that the qualities she has been given are less desirable than those given to Adam, since she can see, "How beauty is excelled by manly grace / And wisdom, which alone is truly fair." (IV. 490-1). She acknowledges that her attributes are less impressive than Adam's.
Adam feels incomplete before Eve comes into being, and since he pines for companionship, the reader can infer that the qualities he sees in himself are not sufficient to stand alone. Adam is given not only superior ability to reason, but he is given a "head start" on Eve, since he exists for some time before her. It is important to note that during the time before Eve is created, Adam is conversing with God, and he is given insight into his own existence. This is knowledge gained through experience, which is different than the knowledge given to him by God. Adam has a chance to grow and mature before Eve is created. Adam's first thoughts were to question his existence, and to seek God, but Eve was never given the opportunity to discover God for herself, rather she was given the opportunity to discover Adam, and then God through Adam.
Adam could not help but have a great affection for Eve, since she was created to please him, but Eve has free will in her choice to accept Adam, which she does, "with eyes / Of conjugal attraction unreproved," (IV. 493-4). This is similar to the reaction that Adam has when he meets God: "In adoration at his feet I fell / Submiss:" (VIII. 315-16). A double-parallel relationship is created between God, Adam and Eve. Adam falls in adoration to God, but Eve falls in adoration to Adam. Adam's reason and intellect give him cause to understand why he should be thankful to his creator, and he acknowledges his debt to God, but Eve owes no thanks to Adam except that he exists and loves her. Eve was created because Adam was lonely. Eve was never lonely, being created with a partner in waiting, yet she cares for him and admires him in a manner that is similar, if lower in magnitude, to the adoration Adam displays to God. Eve's willingness to love Adam is due to the fact that she admires his reason and his superior intellect, yet she is not given the opportunity to be admired in a similar way, since there are no others except the beasts. This causes her to feel inadequate in some way, and so she finds it necessary to assert herself to assuage these feelings.
Eve is created for Adam as, "The likeness, thy fit help, thy other self, / Thy wish exactly to thy heart's desire." (VIII. 450-1). Milton deliberately uses the words "likeness" and "help" to demonstrate that Eve is lower than Adam on a hierarchical system. His use of the word desire reflects that Eve is being created for Adam. If Eve were a complete match for Adam, she might not have admired him and accepted him as she did. If Eve were created apart from Adam, both of them may not have been so mutually attracted. It is the differences that make them fit for each other, and it is her inferior position that makes her attractive to Adam. While Adam asked for a partner that could hold discussions with him as an equal, God gives him what he really needs, which is a being slightly less intellectual than he, but more emotional and more beautiful. These attributes are things which Adam lacks, and therefore seeks in his mate. By being created after Adam, by having less ability to reason than Adam, and by not having a direct line of communication with God, Eve is placed in a position where she is understandably jealous of Adam and his position as her superior. It is Eve's lower position, her less than adequate reasoning and her vanity that lead to conflict and eventually the fall.
If Eve's fault is jealousy and vanity, then Adam's fault is his desire for a being less than himself. Eve is what Adam wanted, but she is placed in a position where she is desirous to find out what she can do without Adam. Adam denies his intellect for Eve's sake, and this leads him to fall with her, since he knows that he cannot bear to exist alone.
Milton uses many parallel scenes in Paradise Lost, but these two are fundamentally important to the outcome of the story. Without the conflict of the relationship, the reader would not be able to grasp the subtleties of the fall. Milton's placement and contrast allow them to create a powerful scenario of believability for the reader. The parallel method of Adam and Eve telling their own version of their nativity allows both perspectives to be judged, but the reader is also lead by Milton to conclusions and sympathies about both of them. By placing Eve's recollection first, her account is much further away than Adam's when the reader comes to the fall. The reader tends to be more sympathetic to Adam when Eve falls, and she is seen as the inferior being, unable to cope without Adam. Still, Milton allows her "grace" by having her talk Adam into repentance, but it is definitely Eve who falls first, and not Adam. In addition to its early placement, Eve's account is much shorter than Adam's, so the reader may view it as less important. Milton places Adam on a higher plane than Eve, for not only does he have traits which are viewed as superior, such as his reasoning, but he has access to God which Eve is denied, and he is able to gain experience before she is created. Milton wishes the reader's sympathies to sway in both directions, but by his placement of Eve in a lower position, he wants the reader to make a final conclusion that Adam is in some way superior to Eve. The nativity scenes set up the conflict which leads to Eve's desire to be alone, and it is this that leads to the fall.
John Milton, Paradise Lost