Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Sin and The Serpent: Paradise Lost and The Garden of Eden

Hello Everyone,

We are pleased to share another special guest post with you today.

Terry, whom you probably know as @Terry the Nurse on Twitter, is indeed a nurse, though she also has a degree in History and a graduate degree in Human Communication.

Previously, Terry shared her thoughts on Abelard and Heloise and their place in the story of Gabriel and Julia, as well as her thoughts on Madame Butterfly and her cameo in Gabriel's Inferno. The response to her pieces was enthusiastic and we're thrilled she is able to share more of her insights on the series.

Enjoy and Take Care,

Sin and The Serpent: Paradise Lost and The Garden of Eden

As most of you know now, SR symbolically uses the theme of The Garden of Eden as the backdrop to his passion- filled story of The Professor and Julia. After reading Chapter One of Gabriel’s Redemption, several of my friends and SR’s readers asked me about the connection to Milton’s Paradise Lost. In this post I would like to discuss some of the symbolism and the connection to Inferno, Rapture, (and what we know of Redemption) to The Garden of Eden and Milton’s epic poem.   Several comments following the posting of the first chapter of Redemption on SR’s website reflected some concern about the mention of Paradise Lost in relation to what happens to Gabriel and Julia in the third book. In reality, however, Milton’s theme of the Serpent, Adam and Eve, and the expulsion from Paradise has been running through the books since the Professor said, “Miss Mitchell!!” Right from the onset, the Garden of Eden has metaphorically trickled through the text.

While the Garden of Eden plays prominently in the Judeo-Christian tradition, it’s worth a quick mention of the main characters and what they symbolize.

Of course, we all know that Adam is the first man created by God, and Eve was created from his rib to be his partner. Eden is also referred to as Paradise, and the Selinsgrove orchard, where so many key scenes take place in Inferno and Rapture as well as the only place Gabriel feels true comfort, is a metaphor for the Edenic Paradise. The nakedness of both Adam and Eve are representative of innocence which ends once both have eaten the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Life. It is perhaps the only place Gabriel feels true innocence – remember that it is the only time Gabriel feels no need for seduction when he first takes Julia there.

The Serpent is emblematic of seduction and sin and appears frequently in both books.  Indeed, Gabriel has tattooed the serpent (or dragon) on his chest – a reminder of his self-perception as one who is corrupting and sinful. We know that Gabriel, especially in Inferno, perceives himself as a “magnet for sin,” unable to overcome the seductive qualities of meaningless and empty sensuality. It is interesting to me that the serpent is subtly mentioned in one of our favorite love scenes in Inferno – the office kiss after the seminar fiasco. If you catch the Edenic references scattered throughout, you know that there will be trouble in Paradise, because SR is hinting at it even as the relationship begins. Consider this very revealing line:

She was silent as she felt the energy between them shift, like a serpent circling back on itself, swallowing itself whole, anger and passion feeding off of one another. (Inferno, p.236.)

The mention of the serpent, so evil, so seductive, in the midst of the intense romantic connection that we all impatiently waited for is a hint that things just may not be what they seem.  In fact, Gabriel refers to himself as a “fallen angel” – a term which many believe represents the serpent before he became jealous of God’s relationship to Adam and Eve.

The Tree of Life (sometimes called The Tree of Knowledge in the Judaic tradition) is frequently thought to be an apple tree. In fact, apples themselves are also considered symbolic of knowledge, and this reference is frequently used by SR throughout the books.  I propose that the apple references are an accentuation of both Gabriel’s and Julia’s growing and developing self-knowledge as they progress through their turbulent interpersonal relationship.  Earlier in the story, when Gabriel is battling his inner demons, the apple can be understood to be one of two things – either sin (as Gabriel himself refers to it when he proposes to Julia) or as a hint of the coming redemption brought by Gabriel’s increasing faith and  an accepting knowledge of himself, his mistakes,  and his flaws. In the Christian interpretation, many perceive The Tree of Life as symbolic of Jesus and the eventuality of the redemption He brings. With Gabriel’s growing spirituality, I suggest that the silver apple charm that he gives to Julia signifies their mutual connection to the orchard and all it represents to them both, his love for Julia, and his respect for Julia’s intellectual ability (at least as far as Chapter 2!) Even his gift to her – a homemade pie – is an apple pie.

In the epic poem Paradise Lost, Milton focuses on Adam and Eve’s disobedience and fall from grace. With multiple references to archangels, including Raphael, Michael, and of course Gabriel, the story is far more involved and complicated than what we read in Genesis. Written in the 17th century, it is not necessarily an easy read in its original form.  But the themes are timeless, as are the themes in Inferno and Rapture (and undoubtedly in Redemption). Choice vs. change, forgiveness vs. revenge, mercy, facing the consequences of our actions, and intimidation as a form of persuasion are all revealed in the poem as well as our own lives. A recurring theme is also Eve’s “status” – is she less than Adam or somehow secondary? Subordinate since she was created after Adam? Should this be taken figuratively or literally? Is she weak, or is she merely human? Are women the first “sinners?”

Perhaps more relevant to the love story between Julia and Gabriel is the long-held concept of the Tree of Knowledge bearing forbidden fruit. Is there anything more magnetic, more appealing, or more erotic than forbidden love, desiring the one person you can’t have? (Personally, I don’t think so, and obviously Gabriel would agree.)  Therefore, while we know that the Garden of Eden is the primal backdrop to our favorite story of forbidden love, I would suggest that the concept I would emphasize while reading is what can happen (and does) when our hearts take over our brains, when we know we are breaking the rules and do it anyway, and realizing, sometimes too late, that the consequences were far more than we bargained for. Good and evil live side by side. Now that Adam and Eve have eaten from the Tree, the free will God has given us is where the choices lie.  That is the essential message of Paradise Lost.

I would again thank you for reading and commenting on my musings about the hidden gems regarding the art, literature, and Scripture that SR uses to intensify the story throughout the Gabriel series. Perhaps you have formulated a different interpretation, and if so, that is great! Please share them. And, as always, I want to thank SR for allowing me to interpret his lovely writing. I hope I do you justice, kind sir. 



Jdt said...

Love your post Terry as always. You are always picking out the deepest and dearest thoughts of mine. The links to literature treasure that SR so marvelously hide or actually present is one of my addiction to his work.

Actually there is no hero in Milton's Paradise Lost. The reader follows an antihero Satan himself. In Milton's Paradise Lost the most important theme is that we humans are struggling about, the "theodicy problem" , with other words " if God is good and almighty how can we explain the evil?"
The answer you find ( I think) in Paradise Lost is that if you don't fall to the evil, you don't have the chance to change, and this is actually Gods plan. As it goes with Satan himself as he finds out after talking to Angel Gabriel, that his fall was Gods will.

Back to our beloved Professor or Gabriel, he needs to be a fallen Angel, otherwise there is no insight, no seeking or not a chance to change or to redemption. SR has given his characters the possibility to "go thru fire" or Hell as Gabriel say. Thru this personal travel both Gabriel and Julia make their choices, and I agree that this healing insight and development to redemption begins with the words "Miss Mitchell".

Like your thoughts about Eden versus Orchard, it is a safe place there everything begins and hopefully with a basket full of apples the knowledge of unconditional love and trust for each other will bring our beloved Gabriel the redemption he is eligible for.

Thank you Terry for writing the post. Definitely million thanks for SR for writing the novels.


Efrat Noy said...

Terry.. as always – wonderful post! Your analysis and research always amaze me, and provide such great insight into the hidden layers of this complex novel.
I do, however, want to add a few insights of my own..

First, the novel is smothered with references to serpents and dragons. Not only in the blunt form of Gabriel’s tattoo, but it is hidden very well in the text, to create the effect of seduction, danger and perhaps uneasiness. Throughout Inferno, mainly, Gabriel is trying to prove to Julia that he is Adam, and not the snake, but in some instances, the word ‘dragon’ is associated with him. Other characters, such as Prof. Singer are also referred to as a ‘dragon’. Notice how this adds depth to the writing, as the readers try to figure out the true character of both Julia and Gabriel, with the subconscious theme of the biblical tale of the Garden of Eden.

Second, the apple is an interesting fruit with respect to its symbolism (which may vary between cultures), and carry different, sometimes opposite, facets to it. On one hand, it is most known for wealth of knowledge and, in some cultures – fertility (which will likely be an important element in ‘Redemption’), while on the other hand, an apple is also a very seductive fruit. It fulfills both a hunger and a thirst – a want and a need.. There is a dichotomy here with respect to the apple, which goes back to the idea of the heart taking over the brain (a theme that is discussed in Gabriel’s lecture – Lust in Dante’s Inferno: The Deadly Sin against the Self).

This tells us that for every good there is also a bad. Question is - what choices do we make along the way to balance those out – how do we make light a majority of our lives, and not darkness.

Lastly, there is also the topic of sex, which is an important element to both the tale of Gabriel and Julianne and Adam and Eve, especially as it relates to the ‘knowledge’ gained. Note when Adam and Eve tasted the forbidden fruit, they became conscious of their bodies and begun to cover themselves up – a migration from innocence to a state of knowledge. In Inferno, Gabriel is very protective of Julia’s virginity and innocence, as it’s alluring to him. In fact, Gabriel says that “Rachel began to blush after she started having sex with Aaron” and in some cases alludes to events “tainting her innocence”, as he doesn’t want that trait of hers to go away with an eating of an apple. In Rapture, he is protecting her form the knowledge of a cruel administration, keeping her innocence intact.

And finally, going back to the apple.. some historians/theologians say that the Tree of Knowledge might not have been an apple tree, but a pear tree – which is also a seductive fruit and symbolic of a woman’s body.. It’s all connected :-)

Blogmaitresse said...

Terry (and Judith and Efrat) you've covered all the bases of this theme as far as I can see. This is what I love about the books. They're not simplistic 'Good vs Bad' tropes (though there are themes). The layers are so interwoven, drawing on history, theology, theosophy and psychology that I in my own little way find endless lodes to mine and ponder over.

Thanks again

Sheila x

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