God becomes angry not so much at the act of disobedience but at Adam and Eve's avoidance of responsibility. Significantly, the word sin is not introduced in the Bible until later, when Cain murders his brother, Abel. It seems that Adam and Eve's worst transgression is their scapegoating, and the couple's moral life will finally begin when they can acknowledge having done wrong.
Seductive and aggressive, a narcissist, the serpent is deemed the archvillain of the story. It proves more articulate than man, and its courtship of woman is as ardent as it is cunning. It is involved with the woman strictly for its own pleasure and gratification. The serpent derives perverse excitement from successfully tempting Eve. It is a villain because of the baseness of its motives, not because of the act it encourages. The serpent began its existence standing erect, an image that suggests sexual enticement, and according to rabbinical tradition, that is how it spoke to the woman. God disapproves of this narcissism and severely punishes the serpent. No wonder we call a sneaky, selfish person "a snake"!
God tells the serpent, "Because you did this, more cursed shall you be than all the cattle and all the wild beasts." God's first punishment reduces the offending serpent's entire species to the humiliation of crawling and eating dirt.
Having meted out his sternest punishment, God then turns to woman: "I will make most severe your pain in childbearing; in pain shall you bear children; yet your urge shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you." Even with modern medicine, giving birth is not free of pain or risk. After birth, however, a protective amnesia sets in, and the life force within the mother prevails. Memory of the pain recedes, and the woman once again desires sexual union with her partner. That, too, is part of God's grand design. The suppression of the memory of pain in childbirth is part of a fundamental optimism about the future, about hope and a new beginning.
Next, God addresses man: "Because you did as your wife said and ate of the tree about which I commanded you, 'You shall not eat of it,' cursed be the ground because of you; by toil shall you eat of it all the days of your life: Thorns and thistles shall it sprout for you. But your food shall be the grasses of the field; by the sweat of your brow shall you get bread to eat, until you return to the ground—for from it you were taken. For dust you are, and to dust you shall return."