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Ligeia by Edgar Allan Poe

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Cyndi McClanahan

on 10 March 2014

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Transcript of Ligeia by Edgar Allan Poe

Summary, Plot, & Point of View
Characters, Setting, Theme, & Symbolism
Point of View
First Person (Central Narrator)

"Ligeia," like many of Poe's tales, is told from the perspective of an unnamed narrator. This strategy gives Poe a lot of freedom when it comes to the storytelling: he can create a distinct voice and manipulate information in a way that he might not be able to with your usual impartial third-person narrator. In the case of "Ligeia," Poe has a lot of fun: his narrator has a bad memory and is totally obsessed with his dead wife. He's a classic "unreliable narrator". So Poe can do more than simply tell the story, he can get himself – and us – all wrapped up in its messy particulars, in the haze of obsession. We're stuck right in the middle of the action and, despite having a front row seat or perhaps because we have one, we have a hard time separating fact from fiction, reality from dream.
The setting is vague throughout the story. Pow did this on purpose to draw the reader out of the ordinary and into the supernatural events of the story.
In “Ligeia,” the narrator is unable to see behind Ligeia’s dark and mysterious eyes. Because the eyes symbolize her Gothic identity, they conceal Ligeia’s mysterious knowledge, a knowledge that both guides and haunts the narrator.
Black & White Color Imagery
Allusions & Cultural References
Literary and Mythological References

John Glanvill (1)
The daughters of Delos (3)
Apollo and Cleomenes (3)
Nourjahad (4)
About Edgar Allan Poe
Ligeia is a story about an unnamed man. He recalls his first wife Ligeia, and describes her in great detail. He talks about how he doesn't remember much about her besides her unusual features. For example, he talks about her eyes that were raven colored and her naturally curly hair that matched her eyes. For the most part, the way that the man describes his admiration and love for Ligeia is ideal, until she becomes mysteriously ill that is. The man then tells about his wife's dimishing appearance. As Ligeia dies, the man reads her a poem in which she composed by herself just days before.
Devastated by Ligeia's death, the man moves to England and eventually remarries a woman named Lady Rowena. They lived well and happy until the man realizes that Rowena does not love him. After about two months of marriage, Rowena falls mysteriously ill just like Ligeia did. As her health depletes, Rowena passes away as well. The day after her death, color returns back to Rowena and she moans. More color returns to her face but unexpectedly she becomes icy cold once again and doesn't make a sound. Soon after this happens, the man has a terrible encounter with Rowena's reawakening corpse. This time though, as she rises and walks towards the man, he realizes that it is his beloved Ligiea.
Initial Situation
Right from the beginning, you can tell "Ligeia" definitely doesn't follow the "classic" plot arc. The narrator spends the first third of the story telling us all about Ligeia, about her origins and her beauty and her intelligence and, most of all about his intense devotion to her. There's lots of description and no action.
Ligeia suddenly becomes ill and dies.

Just before launching into the story of Ligeia's death, the narrator tells us, "How poignant, then, must have been the grief with which, after some years, I beheld my well-grounded expectations take wings to themselves and fly away" (Poe). With Ligeia's sickness and death, all of the narrator's dreams are, to put it crudely, flushed down the toilet. He's left with no hope and no guidance.
After a prolonged illness, Lady Rowena dies – but the narrator notices some strange stuff happening almost right away.

This isn't a climax, so to speak, but it is the moment when you know things are going to get really intense. Shadows on the carpet, mysterious drops of red liquid, a sudden turn for the worse, and still pages left to go – you know that the story's not just going to end with the death of Rowena.
After a prolonged illness, Lady Rowena dies – but the narrator notices some strange stuff happening almost right away.

This isn't a climax, so to speak, but it is the moment when you know things are going to get really intense. Shadows on the carpet, mysterious drops of red liquid, a sudden turn for the worse, and still pages left to go – you know that the story's not just going to end with the death of Rowena.
The narrator watches in horror and amazement as Rowena's body comes back to life – and then falls quickly "back to death." His drugged-up state makes everything a little hazy, but we know that each return – and fall – is more intense than the next.

The first time Rowena shows signs of life, we might think to ourselves: "Man, this is weird." The second? "Huh, what's going to happen?" The eighth, ninth, tenth times? "Come on, this is getting ridiculous!" We really, really want to know what's going down.
Rowena rises from her bed, but the narrator notices that something's not quite right with her. She seems to be just a little bit…taller.

The whole "rising from the dead" thing is amazing enough, but Poe's got another twist left in him. Sure, he shows us something unbelievable, but there's still something more to be uncovered.
When the narrator steps closer to Rowena, she lets the shroud drop from her face. She's become Ligeia.

Finally, we get the big reveal. Literally. You could call this the climax if you really wanted to, as this is what everything is moving towards. It's the payoff, and a big one at that.
Information modeled from http://www.shmoop.com/ligeia/plot-analysis.html
Ligeia by Edgar Allan Poe (Published 1838)
Serious, Affectionate, Hazy
Our narrator's a serious guy with a serious passion for his dead wife. His description of Ligeia, which opens the story, is as heartfelt as it is rosy. His love for Ligeia is obvious, but so is his commitment to understanding her. This same sort of balance, between serious contemplation and intense emotion, is key to the tale. It applies as much to the narrator's feelings about Ligeia as it goes to the structure of the story itself. Just as the narrator is overcome by his devotion to Ligeia yet struggles to understand her, we as readers have to deal with our own emotional responses – fear, for instance – as we try to look beyond the spooky bits. Poe is writing a story that is just as much about passion and power – what other words can better describe the force that animates Ligeia? – and the philosophical explanation for her return from the dead, as described by Glanvill.

Poe complicates the issue even more by making his narrator a little less than objective: his statements are colored by love and opium, and so the story takes on a sort of misty quality. So even as Poe is striking a balance, he's making sure it's an unsteady one.
Gothic Fiction
The tale of "Ligeia" has all the hallmarks of that strange genre called Gothic fiction: death, romance, horror, supernatural phenomena, hallucinations, and possibly haunted locations. Oh, and did we mention death and romance? Those two concepts – usually combined – are the foundation of this genre. Poe's ability to look at something as terrifying as Ligeia's resurrection romantically, through the eyes of her former lover, is what makes the tale more than a simple horror story. It's that strange mixture of love and death, all set in a spooky old abbey that makes it super Gothic. Heck, look up "Gothic Fiction" on Google and you'll see a picture of Ligeia rising from her bed. Well, probably not. But maybe.
Historical References

Francis Bacon (Lord Verulam) (4+)
The Well of Democritus (4)
Leda (Constellation) (4)
Lyra (constellation) (5)
What’s Up With the Epigraph?
"And the will therein lieth, which dieth not. Who knoweth the mysteries of the will, with its vigor? For God is but a great will pervading all things by nature of its intentness, Man doth not yield himself to the angels, nor unto death utterly, save only through the weakness of his feeble will."
– Joseph Glanvill
So, you're probably wondering who Joseph Glanvill is, right? The quick answer is that he's an English writer and philosopher from the seventeenth century. Some more detail? Well, Glanvill had a lot to say about, among other things, the power of witchcraft, the supernatural, and the soul. So, naturally, he's the perfect guy for Poe to call upon for a choice quote. But the thing is, nobody has ever been able to find the quote that Poe uses for his epigraph.
Fake or not, we can still make sense of "Glanvill's" statement. Looking at that first line, we can find the real star of the show: "the will." This will is apparently immortal – it "dieth" not. It's also unknowable and "vigorous," judging by the next line. Even more important, the will and God seem to be pretty closely related, for God is "but a great will pervading all things by the knowing of its intentness."

So, now we know that, according to "Glanvill," the will: 1) doesn't die, 2) is unknowable and powerful, and 3) is or is like God. Which is all to say that the will is really, really important and pretty much everywhere.

Now to the last part: you know how the first line talks about the will being "therein," but doesn't specify where that "in" is? Well, we finally get an answer at the end of the epigraph. It seems that the will is in "Man." So in the last line "Glanvill" makes a bold claim: "Only through the weakness of his feeble will," he says, does man "yield himself to the angels" and "death utterly." In other words, he's saying that if you're gritty and determined enough, you can avoid death through will alone.
"...I regarded the sweet mouth. Here was indeed the triumph of all things heavenly --the magnificent turn of the short upper lip --the soft, voluptuous slumber of the under --the dimples which sported, and the color which spoke --the teeth glancing back, with a brilliancy almost startling, every ray of the holy light which fell upon them in her serene and placid, yet most exultingly radiant of all smiles" (Poe).

"The hue of the orbs was the most brilliant of black, and, far over them, hung jetty lashes of great length" (Poe).
Do you feel Poe was implying Ligeia was poisoning Rowena from beyond the grave or that the narrator in his opium induced stupor was?

Compare and contrast Rowena and Ligeia.

How does Edgar Allen Poe effectively symbolize Ligeia as a “haunting” character

Is the story about a supernatural event or a psychological disturbance?

Why do you think that the narrator remarried so quickly after the death of his beloved Ligeia?
The darkly beautiful and learned first wife of the narrator, Ligeia is a woman who returns from the grave. After dying from a mysterious illness, Ligeia haunts her husband and his new bride, becoming part of the Gothic decorations of their bridal chamber. Ligeia’s most distinctive feature is her hair—black as a raven and naturally curly. Among her physical features, only her brilliant black eyes rival her hair. This is ironic because Poe uses the darkness in her to symbolize her haunting the narrator and Lady Rowena’s marriage.
Lady Rowena
The blonde second wife of the narrator. Rowena’s cold English character contrasts with Ligeia’s sensual, Germanic romanticism. Ligeia punishes Rowena’s lack of affection for the narrator by haunting the bridal chamber and dooming their marriage.
Unnamed narrator
Husband of both Lady Ligeia and Lady Rowena. Unable to recall certain details about his only love, Ligeia, the narrator keeps her alive in his memory after her physical death and his second marriage.
Theme of Mortality
In "Ligeia," death is never the end. Right from the start we're forced to consider that, though dying is probably the end, there's a small possibility that people can overcome it and return to life. Poe asks us to consider it again and again as we see Glanvill's hopeful quote repeated and read Ligeia's bleak poem, "The Conqueror Worm." By the end of the story, we're so primed to see the controversy resolved. Ultimately, Ligeia triumphs over death, takes over Lady Rowena's body, and comes back to life – or seems to, anyway.
Theme of Appearance
Appearance. When it comes to Ligeia, our narrator's obsessed with it. He can remember every line and every curve of his beloved wife's body. And yet, even then, he can't really describe her. There's a certain something that simply can't be captured in words, that lies outside – or maybe inside – of her looks, that's hidden in her expression. It's a strange situation: there's so much description, and yet there's so little to it. Like the narrator's bizarre bridal chamber, appearance may seem to be a simple thing to describe, but if you look at it from a different perspective, it's all too easy to get lost in the details.
Theme of Versions
of Reality
Poe offers us a single perspective in "Ligeia," and it's definitely not a straightforward one. Our narrator is an opium addict and he's stuck living in the past. He's a man who hallucinates and even induces hallucinations in his wife by way of a cruel hall of mirrors. The longer we read "Ligeia," the more questionable our narrator becomes. By the time Ligeia finally rises from the dead, we really have to wonder if we can believe what the narrator is telling us.
Theme of Drugs and Alcohol
Opium is a drug that was legal back in Poe's day. It can cloud the memory, induce visions, and blur the line between dreams and reality. In "Ligeia," it does all that – to our narrator. As such, we're forced to share in his habit, to see the world through drug-clouded lenses. His addiction is a sign of his suffering – you'd like to imagine he wouldn't be using the opium if Ligeia hadn't died – and it affects the very fabric of the story he's sharing. When he tells us that his hallucinations (the shadow on the carpet and the red drops in the goblet) might be the consequence of his opium high, we have to question everything he has been saying all along.
Theme of the Power of the Dead Over the Living
Poe often gives memory the power to keep the dead alive. Poe distorts this otherwise commonplace literary theme by bringing the dead literally back to life, employing memory as the trigger that reawakens the dead, who are usually women. In “Ligeia,” the narrator cannot escape memories of his first wife, Ligeia, while his second wife, the lady Rowena, begins to suffer from a mysterious sickness. While the narrator’s memories belong only to his own mind, Poe allows these memories to exert force in the physical world. Ligeia dies, but her husband’s memory makes him see her in the architecture of the bedroom he shares with his new wife. In this sense, Gothic terror becomes a love story. The loving memory of a grieving husband revives a dead wife. “Ligeia” breaks down the barrier between life and death, but not just to scare the reader. Instead, the memory of the dead shows the power of love to resist even the permanence of death.
1809 :
Edgar Poe is born on January 19, in Boston.
1810 :
Edgar's parents separate. Elizabeth Poe (mother) takes the children.
1811 :
Edgar's mother, Elizabeth dies.
Mr. and Mrs. John Allan adopt Edgar Poe.
1815 :
Edgar Allan goes to school in England.
1820 :
Edgar returns to the United States and continues his schooling.
1823 :
Edgar attends the academy of William Burke, succeeds in athletics.
1826 :
Edgar attends the University of Virginia, goes by "Edgar Poe".
1827 :
Poe drops out of school because John Allan won't give him any money.
Poe writes and prints his first book, "Tamerlane and other Poems".
Poe can't support himself so he joins the United States Army.
1828 :
Edgar Poe does well in the Army, attains rank of sergeant major.
1829 :
Mrs. Allan dies, Edgar returns home.
Poe and John Allan temporarily reconcile their differences.
Poe applies to West Point, John Allan sponsors him.
1831 :
Poe deliberately gets kicked out of West Point.
Poe submits a number of stories to magazines. They are rejected.
1833 :
Poe sends a desperate letter to John Allan asking for help, and is ignored.
1834 :
John Allan dies and leaves Edgar nothing in his will.
1835 :
Poe wins a contest for "The Manuscript Found in a Bottle". Because of the contest, Poe finally gets a job.
1836 :
Edgar Poe marries his cousin Virginia in May. She is 13.
1838 :
Poe writes "Ligeia".
1839 :
Poe writes "The Fall of the House of Usher".
"Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque", Poe's first volume of short stories, is published. He receives no money from the publisher.
1841 :
Poe writes "The Murders in the Rue Morgue".
1842 :
Virginia Poe breaks a blood-vessel while playing the piano.
1843 :
Poe wins a hundred dollar prize for "The Gold Bug".
1844 :
Poe moves back to New York City.
Thousands were deceived by Poe's story, "The Balloon Hoax".
Poe writes "The Purloined Letter".
1845 :
Poe writes "The Raven".
Poe was working 14 hour days but still couldn't make a living.
1846 :
Poe writes "The Philosophy of Composition".
Poe sues another paper for libel and wins. The suit is settled for $225.00.
1847 :
Poe's wife, Virginia, dies from tuberculosis on January 30.
1848 :
Poe writes "The Poetic Principle".
June 30 - Poe leaves NYC and visits John Sartain in Philadelphia.
July 13 - Poe goes to Richmond and stays at the Swan Tavern Hotel.
Poe joins the "Sons of Temperance" in an effort to stop drinking.
Poe lectures on "The Poetic Principle".
Sept 27 - Poe leaves Richmond and goes back to Philadelphia.
Sept 30 - Poe apparently gets on the wrong train and goes to Baltimore.
Oct 3 - Poe is found half conscious and is taken to a hospital.
Edgar Allan Poe dies on October 7, 1849.

1. Edgar Allan Poe’s stories of an aristocratic French detective, C. Auguste Dupin, served as a model for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.
2. Poe sat for this daguerreotype four days after he attempted suicide.
*He attempted suicide by laudanum overdose on Nov. 5, 1848, and got engaged to Sarah Helen Whitman later that month. They would never marry.
Poe's Death

No one knows exactly what happened to Edgar Allan Poe. Did he drink himself to death? Was he robbed and knocked unconscious? Did he have some other illness? Since he was found on an election day in politically corrupt Baltimore, one theory has it that Poe was "cooped." Political gangs would kidnap people and force them to change into different clothes so that they could vote at multiple polling sites. Victims were sometimes beaten or forced to drink alcohol to get them to go along with the plan. Others have suggested that "cooping" had nothing to do with Poe's death, proposing that the writer instead perished of (take your pick!) tuberculosis or heart disease or brain tumor or epilepsy or diabetes or drug overdose or carbon monoxide poisoning or even rabies. Unfortunately, we'll probably never know the true story.

Presented by Group 3
Presentation made by Cynthia McClanahan

Information about Edgar Allan Poe found by Lynzi Morgan
summary written by Cynthia McClanahan
plot and point of view found by Cynthia McClanahan
genre found by Lynzi Morgan
tone found by Skylar Skidmore
setting and theme found by Lauren Robinett
characters found by Taylor Weifenbach
symbolism found by Skylar Skidmore
imagery found by Taylor Weifenbach
allusions and cultural references found by Cynthia
Discussion questions and topics made by whole group
Works Cited
"OTIS (Odd Things I've Seen): Edgar Allan Poe’s
Boston." OTIS (Odd Things I've Seen): Edgar
Allan Poe’s Boston. Web. 02 Mar. 2014.
Poe, Edgar A. "Ligeia." Poestories. Web. 01 Mar.
"Poe's Life." Death Theories. Web. 03 Mar. 2014.
Shmoop Editorial Team. "Ligeia." Shmoop.com.
Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web.
27 Feb. 2014.
"Themes, Motifs & Symbols." SparkNotes.
SparkNotes. Web. 04 Mar. 2014.
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