Milton on Eve’s discovery of the benefits of the division of labor in the Garden of Eden (1667)

John Milton

Found in The Poetical Works of John Milton

In his epic poem Paradise Lost (1667) John Milton (1608-1674) describes how Eve comes across the idea that by specializing on different tasks in the garden of Eden they could produce more. Adam quashes this idea because he thinks that a women must not be allowed to leave her husband’s side for a moment:

And Eve first to her Husband thus began.
Adam, well may we labour still to dress
This Garden, still to tend Plant, Herb and Flour.
Our pleasant task enjoyn’d, but till more hands
Aid us, the work under our labour grows,
Luxurious by restraint; what we by day
[210] Lop overgrown, or prune, or prop, or bind,
One night or two with wanton growth derides
Tending to wilde. Thou therefore now advise
Or hear what to my mind first thoughts present,
Let us divide our labours, thou where choice
Leads thee, or where most needs, whether to wind
The Woodbine round this Arbour, or direct
The clasping Ivie where to climb, while I
In yonder Spring of Roses intermixt
With Myrtle, find what to redress till Noon:
[220] For while so near each other thus all day
Our task we choose, what wonder if so near
Looks intervene and smiles, or object new
Casual discourse draw on, which intermits
Our dayes work brought to little, though begun
Early, and th’ hour of Supper comes unearn’d.

Milton describes in some detail the labor which Adam and Eve must undertake in the garden of Eden. He uses words such as “gardning”, “prune,” and “lop” for example. It is interesting that he places in the mouth of the woman Eve the important economic idea that a division of labor between them (“let us divide our labours”) would result in much greater productivity. She recognizes that they could specialize in certain activities in different parts of the garden (she in the rose garden, he in arbour) and that they could spend less time talking to each other and concentrate on doing their work, thus maximizing their output. Equally interesting is the fact that Milton has the male Adam reject this idea after praising her concern in wanting to improve the “houshold” economy. He says that God doesn’t want them to work too hard in the garden, or to be too productive, and that he doesn’t mind that she have short separations from him but he fears for her security and “honour” if she strays too far from his side. Here we seem to have a clash between Eve who thinks economically and Adam who thinks more about obeying the commands of the creator.