In keeping with the topic of feminism for just a little longer, I’d like to post a portion of an essay I wrote form my Readings in Humanities class, in response to a prompt that told us to write about a literary hero. I think I took the assignment on a bit of a different track then what was expected but, I’m happy with it! I promise a real post as soon as I am done writing the million essays I have due this week.
The biblical character of Eve is a hero to a great deal of feminists, both young and old, although many scholars might find reason to disagree. While it is true that Eve was the first to defy God, give into the devil’s trickery, and eat the apple; thus bringing human-kind out of Eden and into the harsh realities of mortality and self-sufficiency, this does not mean one can simply write her off as a weak-minded character, deserving of subservience to men.
The act of eating the apple, and later convincing Adam to do so, can be seen as terrible mistake, or it can be seen as necessary and freeing; the first act of human free-will. Eve can be seen as the morally deficient perpetrator of original sin, the one who doomed all of humanity to live a life distanced from God; or she can be seen as a liberator, the woman who brought humanity true free will and the ability to better appreciate God and the beauty of life, through the perspective that comes with the suffering humanity was doomed to as punishment for Eve’s sin.
Eve goes against the textual implication that she should be subservient and obedient to Adam, since she came from his rib. “It is Eve’s disobedience, her willingness to take a risk,” claims author Cassandra Langer, “that distinguishes her from Adam and sets her apart as the teacher of humankind.” Within the literary context of the bible Eve is portrayed as a scapegoat for her decision to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. As a result of her actions Eve is considered foolish and unwise for listening to the trickery of the serpent, over the orders of her God; however, this is not the only way in which a reader can interpret Eve’s actions.
It is apparent that Eve is aware that her actions would hold negative consequences before she eats from the tree, since Eve herself explained to the serpent that God had told her, “Ye shall not eat of [the tree in the center of the garden], neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.” She ate from the tree, not because the serpent tricked her, but because she saw that it was “a tree to be desired to make one wise.” While it is true that later in the story she claims that she ate the fruit because she was ‘beguiled’ by the serpent ultimately, Eve was not fooled; she was aware that she was acting against God’s will, and yet she decided that the rewards of her actions were worth risking the anger of her God. Most simply put, Eve made up her mind to pursue knowledge over following an order; a decision that, in many minds, makes her a hero.
Eve represents a very specific type of hero, the ‘fallen hero’ who makes a difficult decision, and often sacrifices their own well being, in order to bring about a necessary conclusion. Eve can be understood as a ‘fallen hero’ through comparison with similar heroes of other cultures. The Greek Prometheus, who was punished by the gods for giving man fire, provides an excellent parallel to Eve. Once the reader understands that both Prometheus’s fire and Eve’s apple serve as the metaphor for knowledge, it becomes apparent that both characters defied the Gods and ended up placing knowledge into the hands of mankind.
However, where Prometheus is treated sympathetically by critics and hailed as a hero for risking his own well being for the sake of human knowledge; Eve is viewed in a negative light, due mostly to the manner in which her story is framed within the Bible. Since the Bible, unlike the Greek Myths, is written from God’s perspective (instead of man’s perspective) Eve’s actions are seen as sinful, and as the cause of a ‘fall from grace.’ However, when her actions are considered objectively, without the value judgment that the story places upon them, it becomes apparent that her actions lead to the same result as Prometheus’s did and thus, Eve is a hero in the same sense as her Greek counterpart.
When compared to Adam, Eve’s husband and supposed superior, Eve also comes off as a hero. While Adam ate the fruit alongside Eve, he did so because Eve told him to, not because he had weighed the options and decided that defying God was worth it. Adam blindly followed the orders of Eve and yet he is portrayed as the hero within the context of the Bible as God tells Eve, “he shall rule over thee.” While this could be considered an indication that Eve, and therefore women in general, are inferior to Adam, who represents men, there is another interpretation to this decision. Since Adam had not actively questioned God, even in his act of eating the fruit, it would make sense for God to put him in charge; God knew that he could rely on Adam because Adam would not question his commands. Still, when one moves away from the value judgment that the text places on both Adam and Eve, Eve is arguably still the true hero of this story. Eve demonstrated intelligence and a sense of morality that allows her to defy authority when she feels it is necessary, both of which can be considered truly heroic characteristics.
Eve may not have been considered a hero in Biblical times, but in the modern day where women are constantly creeping closer to social equality and an ability to question authority is necessary in order to keep our leaders accountable for the morality of their decisions, Eve stands out as an intelligent and brave female hero. According to the Bible, without Eve’s calculated sin human kind would not have the ability to “know good and evil.” While this may have originally been considered a bad thing in the eyes of God, humanity’s knowledge of both good and evil has a positive side as well; it creates the ability to better appreciate both the good in life and an individual’s personal connection with God, since only by suffering can we truly understand the worth of happiness.
Eve’s actions also brought death to humanity and, while death is something most humans resent, it must be acknowledged that without death life loses a lot of meaning, since it is no longer something precious and fragile; without death life would be seriously taken for granted. Eve is a hero because she bore the suffering of defying her God, and ruined her own reputation, in order to bring humanity the knowledge necessary to truly appreciate life.