Eve to Her Daughters

Judith Wright - Eve to Her Daughters 1966

The speaker, Eve, talks to her daughters after her and Adam’s fall from Eden. She claims it was not she who is to blame for getting them thrown out of Paradise, however then lists the ways in which life has become so much harder for them: draughty shelter, hunger, labour, whining children – yet she is willing to cope. It is Adam who can’t seem to accept their new status, becoming intent on making the world a new Eden. Not content with their lot he aspires to become master and have dominion over the whole world following:

Genesis 1. 28 “And God blessed them and said unto them (Adam and Eve), “Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the air.. and over every creeping thing…. Eve continues to talk about Adam’s quest to become god-like, outlining his arrogance – central heating to control the climate – yet destroying it.

    ##Eve to Her Daughters##
*It was not I who began it.
    Turned out into draughty caves,
    hungry so often, having to work for our bread,
    hearing the children whining,
    I was nevertheless not unhappy.
    Where Adam went I was fairly contented to go.
    I adapted myself to the punishment: it was my life.
    But Adam, you know ….. !
    He kept on brooding over the insult,
    over the trick They had played on us, over the scolding.
    He had discovered a flaw in himself
    and he had to make up for it.

Outside Eden the earth was imperfect,
the seasons changed, the game was fleet-footed,
he had to work for our living, and he didn’t like it.
He even complained of my cooking
(it was hard to compete with Heaven).

So he set to work.
The earth must be made a new Eden
with central heating, domesticated animals,
mechanical harvesters, combustion engines,
escalators, refrigerators,
and modern means of communication
and multiplied opportunities for safe investment
and higher education for Abel and Cain
and the rest of the family.

You can see how his pride had been hurt.
In the process he had to unravel everything,
because he believed that mechanism
was the whole secret – he was always mechanical-minded.
He got to the very inside of the whole machine
exclaiming as he went, So that is how it works!
And now that I know how it works, why, I must have invented it.
As for God and the Other, they cannot be demonstrated,
And what cannot be demonstrated
doesn’t exist.
You see, he had always been jealous.

Yes, he got to the centre
where nothing at all can be demonstrated.
And clearly he doesn’t exist; but he refuses
to accept the conclusion.
You see, he was always an egotist.

It was warmer than this in the cave;
There was none of this fall-out.
I would suggest, for the sake of the children,
that it’s time you took over.

But you are my daughters, you inherit my own faults of character;
you are submissive, following Adam
even beyond existence.
Faults of character have their own logic
and it always works out.
I observed this with Abel and Cain.

Perhaps the whole elaborate fable
right from the beginning
is meant to demonstrate this; perhaps it’s the whole secret.
Perhaps nothing exists but our faults?
At least they can be demonstrated.

But it’s useless to make
such a suggestion to Adam.
He has turned himself into God,
who is faultless, and doesn’t exist.

This appears like a manifesto advocating women take over the world.

The Romantic Movement was a reaction against the Age of Reason and the Metaphysical period, when all things seemed possible and life was on a trajectory of unlimited improvement heading towards perfectibility and the ultimate triumph of good. Rejecting reason over emotions it often displayed a lack of realism.

Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein provides a cautionary tale for us to value our natural sensual humanity and reject the scientific notion that rational thought will lead us to a more humane society. On the contrary, our humanity may become diminished.

This coincided with the Industrial Revolution which radically changed the world. If measured by shifts in GDP and population, it was a far greater change than anything before or since, and it dwarfed the economic impact of later technologies such as the internet. As profound as the economic changes were, the social changes were more so, permanently altering the structure of families and communities from one based around extended families – imbedded in clans and local communities, who largely worked together in business and child-raising – to one in which families were more separated from each other, and from their communities, during workdays.

Its economic and social dislocation had catastrophic consequences for millions of people with the advantaged scoring great victories over the disadvantaged. Thousands of the poor were forced off the land, at the complete mercy of a harsh unforgiving and arbitrary system of injustice. Authority officials had the right for peremptory punishments of flogging, transportation or hangings on a whim. A million Irish poor died of starvation despite Ireland exporting surplus food to England.

From the 1850’s the world appeared to be on a trajectory of unlimited growth, the elimination of human drudgery, and human perfectibility. The horror of WWI put paid to that idealistic outlook.

It was only after the publication of Rachel Carson’s (An American writer and scientist) Silent Spring, that people began to recognise the potential of human disaster through the vandalism perpetrated by improved technology. Rather than resilient, nature was fragile and vulnerable when fundamental natural rhythms were ceaselessly destroyed by ruthless exploitation by ever increasing mammoth technology. If Ecosystems are repeatedly defeated, human life will be diminished and likely extinguished.

Literature shows great prescience or foresight in warning us about the long term effects of over population, pollution and environmental degradation.

Man has not only subdued the earth but conquered and utterly defeated it. There is no real attempt to replenish it, thus the need for off world colonies. The opening scenes are nightmarish – a nuclear winter.

As a Canadian Indian Chief queried; “When we kill the last fish, what will we eat – money?