Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, 'Second Adam'

Throughout English literature, the idea of a garden is a recurrent image; these images largely stem from the story of the Garden of Eden which is found in the Genesis, the first book of the Bible.

Adam and Eve

Original perfection

Genesis tells how God created the first human being, Adam. Then, because Adam needed a companion, God created the first woman, Eve, from one of Adam's ribs. God created for these first two humans a perfect garden (known as the Garden of Eden and later called paradise), where everything was beautiful and full of good things for them. However, also in this garden was the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil. Adam and Eve were told by God that they could eat anything in the garden except the fruit of this tree (which, in some later traditions, was an apple tree).

The Fall of Humankind

Eve was tempted by a serpent, which is traditionally held to be the devil in the shape of a snake (see also Big ideas: Serpent, Devil, Satan, Beast). The serpent spoke to her, telling her that if she and Adam ate the fruit, they would ‘be as gods, knowing good and evil' (Genesis 3:5). Eve gave in to the temptation and also persuaded Adam to eat. They were then, for the first time, aware of shame, and instead of being innocently naked, tried to make themselves clothes out of fig leaves. Their disobedience of God is known as the Fall of Humankind and fractured the relationship between God and humans. Adam and Eve were then expelled from the garden and kept out by an angel with a flaming sword. The serpent was cursed as an enemy of humankind.

Christ, the ‘Second Adam'

In the New Testament, Jesus Christ is tempted by the devil, also called Satan (whose name means ‘enemy'), but Jesus rejects the temptations. It states that Christ also saved humankind from the punishment for sin by his own sacrifice when he was put to death on a cross (also see Big ideas: Cross, crucifixion). For this reason Christ is sometimes called the second Adam because, by his death, he made it possible for the fractured relationship between God and humans to be restored.

Uses of the Garden of Eden in literature

Because of the story of Adam and Eve, beautiful gardens have become symbols of a paradise-like existence, free from sin. Many literary texts draw on the story of the Garden of Eden.

Milton's Paradise Lost

Milton's work is an epic poem which is also a complete re-telling of the story of the Fall of Humankind and the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. Milton's declared aim was to ‘justify the ways of God to man'.

Shakespeare's Hamlet

Shakespeare shows how Old Hamlet is poisoned in his orchard by Claudius, ‘the serpent (who) … now wears his crown', and Hamlet feels that the ‘garden' of the world has become choked with weeds (which according to Genesis 3:18 can be seen as a result of humankind's corruption).

Golding's novels

  • In Lord of the Flies, the island is seen as a paradise corrupted by the arrival of humans. Ralph rejoices in the innocence of nakedness, and undoes his ‘snake-clasp belt', but Piggy, who has eaten the fruit, is wary of removing his clothes, and, since he is aware of the nature of sinful humanity, Piggy's death is depicted as a ‘fall through the air'.

  • In The Spire, Golding also uses images of the Garden of Eden. Jocelin, as he lies dying, being tended by Father Adam, has a vision of the apple tree.

Further references

Other writers rely on readers' knowledge of the story of the Garden of Eden to suggest ideas by altering the well-known images:

Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles

Thomas Hardy describes how Tess hears Angel Clare playing his harp as she walks in a garden. However, Hardy deliberately alters details to show that Tess's paradise is doomed:

  • Angel's harp is second-hand

  • The garden is full of ‘weeds emitting offensive smells'.

Lawrence's Sons and Lovers

D.H. Lawrence depicts the Garden of Eden as a place of restriction. Experiencing sexual passion, Adam and Eve ‘lose their innocence and realize the magnificence of the power which drove them out of Paradise'.

Shelley's The Revolt of Islam

Shelley surprises his readers when the serpent turns out to represent goodness.

Related topics

Big ideas: Serpent, Devil, Satan, Beast; Cross, crucifixion

Other cultural references

Milton's Paradise Lost

Shakespeare's Hamlet

Golding's Lord of the Flies, The Spire

Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles

Lawrence's Sons and Lovers

Shelley's The Revolt of Islam

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