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Women are significantly absent within Book I of paradise lost, not only not appearing but also not mentioned by any of the other characters. It could be argued that this makes the appearance of sin in the second book all the more powerful. Sin is the personification of an abstract concept which is presumed to be inherently evil. Yet the portrayal of Sin is arguably more as the innocent victim than the sinister predator.
Sin was a ‘victim’ first of Satan’s own corruption which created her, then of his sexual desires which caused her rape and impregnation.
Although God would seem to have given Sin power in the assignment of her to guard the gate however, as with Eve she could be seen as being there simply to resist the temptation of Satan, a task both the women fail in. Her vulnerability to the manipulation of male characters could be seen as the gothic idea of women; the innocent victims of men.
Whilst the male characters all suffer physical pain in hell whereas the pain Sin suffers is sexual. This could be seen as reflective of the objectification of women, and that Sin’s suffering is extended simply for being a woman. This physical violation of her femininity suggests that to Milton the worst thing that can be taken from a woman is her sexuality and innocence, whereas the male characters are punished through loss of power, suggesting that a woman’s power lies only in her innocence and that without it she is worthless.
The power that women are given in the gothic, or lack thereof, in relation to their male counterparts is also an important reflection of their portrayal within the texts. Sin is able to open the gates of hell yet to shut them “excelled her power”. Not only is this inability reflective of her physical inabilities as Satan and hell pour out into chaos but of societal views of women’s ability to do damage beyond their repair. This would infer that Sin falls into the “innocent victim” gothic characterisation of women, a victim of her own actions rather than the power of men.
The lone woman within Books I and II of Paradise Lost being only the personification of an abstract concept not a person in her own right may be a demonstration of the “significant absence” of women in gothic texts. Whereas Satan and Beelzebub have previously been developed as characters and human-like, Sin however as merely a personification, is not a character readers can identify. Although there is a woman present within paradise lost she may be significantly absent from the reader’s emotions.
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