December 11, 2017
Interpretation of “Ligeia” by Edgar Allen Poe
Edgar Allen’s Poe short story “Ligeia” tells the story of a man’s passionate love for a wildly mysterious and strong-willed woman who refuses to cease even after death. Early in the story, the narrator begins to describe the physical features of his beloved Ligeia, with utmost emphasis placed on the mysticism of her eyes. When describing Ligeia’s eyes, Poe writes “They were, I must believe, far larger than the ordinary eyes of our own race. They were even fuller than that of the fullest of the gazelle eyes of the tribe of the valley of Nourjahad (692).” Thus, inspiring me to illustrate the eyes in such a fashion in my drawing of the beautiful Ligeia. Also, the eyebrows are drawn in the style in which the narrator describes them, “slightly irregular in outline (694).” In addition, the fabricated Joseph Glanvill quote is included, as it relates almost directly with a prominent theme of the story: the strength of human will and its ability to overcome even death. However, multiple themes can be recognized when interpreting Poe’s story. Some interpretations focus primarily on Ligeia’s will, her resistance to death even at the conclusion of her life. Other interpretations analyze in detail the narrator’s fascination with the lady Ligeia, recognizing his praise for her as an all-consuming obsession. Whatever the case may be, the story provides substantial food for thought given the supernatural elements of the tale.
Another intriguing theory presented by various scholars is that of the character Ligeia, suggesting that the woman is actually a Siren, as she possesses traits traditionally identified in that of classic Siren tales. When writing of Ligeia’s voice, Poe describes the sounds as a low musical language of “thrilling and enthralling eloquence (692).” Such a concise description of her voice matches quite well with the nature of a Siren and the methods of seduction used to lure in a victim. Furthermore, the name “Ligeia” itself is derived from the classic Greek mythology tales of the Sirens. In Greek mythology Sirens resided on an island near Sicily, it is generally indicated that the Sirens were three in number, with their names being: Parthenope, Leucosia, and Ligeia (Jones, pg:34). The voice of these Sirens would lead men to shipwreck and ultimately death. One could say that Ligeia afflicts the narrator with an obsession that borders into madness. In this sense, Ligeia’s allure causes the narrator to abandon his own faculties and clarity of thought, which can be interpreted as a spiritual form of death.
The story of Ligeia can be interpreted psychologically; recognizing Ligeia as a mental construct in which the narrator becomes obsessed with, showcasing the loss of his own sanity in the process. Additionally, the story can be interpreted quite literally, with Ligeia herself indeed being a Siren or at least capable of unfathomable supernatural powers. Whichever the case may be, I recognized the story as incredibly, almost tragically, romantic; an example of a man’s complete infatuation with every facet of a woman. However, the defining character trait of Ligeia’s that captivates the narrator with the utmost intensity is that of Ligeia’s own fiery passion. The narrator remarks “Of all women whom I have ever known, she, the outwardly calm, the ever placid Ligeia, was the most violently a prey to the tumultuous vultures of stern passion (695).” It is Ligeia’s iron will and passion that allows her to live on even after death. This theme somewhat reminded me of the impression someone may leave upon the world even after death; as many great artists and visionaries have accomplished. It is only the unique and exceptional that will gain the divine privilege of living past mere physicality and onto the abstract world of thoughts, ideas, and true immortality. Ligeia’s impression on the narrator has affected him so deeply that she now reigns as immortal in his heart.
Jones, Daryl E. “Poe’s Siren: Character and Meaning in “Ligeia.” Studies in Short Fiction, vol. 20, no.1, Winter83, p.33. EBSCOhost
Poe, Edgar Allen. “Ligeia.” Norton Anthology of American Literature, Nina Baym, Robert S. Levine, Shorter Eighth Edition, W.W. Norton & Company, 2013, New York, NY