Literature embodies not universal or essential truths, but ideas and values which, like the reader's own, are conditioned and limited by history. Thus, Milton's views of authority relations, power, marriage, kinship relations, dominance and subordination, and his use of typification to define normative and deviant behavior, are subject to evaluation, rejection, or acceptance in the light of modern conceptions, drawn partly from anthropological and sociological research. In Satan and his women characters, Milton struggles to reconcile mutuality, hierarchy, and individual action. Eve's relation to Satanic deviancy, her learning of prescribed roles, and her acceptance of familial and domestic responsibilities define the woman's sphere in Paradise Lost. Similarly circumscribed, the Lady in Comus affirms community, sociability, and culture. The portrait of Dalila defines proper conjugal relations in terms of female subordination and service. Besides illuminating historical attitudes toward women, these characterizations compel the reader to question the presence of “universal truths” in Milton or any literature.

The text of this article is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.