Edgar Allan Poe’s “Ligeia” is a masterpiece that has created a significant amount of speculation. Many authors and thinkers have offered their interpretation of the short story, and each one could be taken as a unique understanding of the story. Of course, it could also be true that the different perspectives all closely relate to the story and where the original idea behind Allan Poe’s writing. The human mind is such a complex entity that it would be impossible to quantify what the author meant. Another assumption might lead to believe that Poe did not have a specific plan or organization of the story but it came together in the process. Usually, great things of art cannot be planned but come alive during the work and search for the most specific representation of the mind’s imagination.
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In an article, “Poe’s Ethereal Ligeia”, Davis and Davis state that “The story proliferates with hints that Ligeia is only a figment of the narrator’s imagination” (Davis and Davis 171). They go on to give examples of the fact that Ligeia is imaginary and cite several specific instances. There is no denying that the part where the narrator describes the woman he so strongly loves, is filled with references to the “supernatural” nature of Ligeia. This is made explicitly obvious by Allan Poe and the mere fact that it is so obvious does not leave any doubt that this was Poe’s intention. The two interpretations that come out of this are, either she is imaginary or she is real and that special. If she is imaginary, the fact that the narrator sees her through opium-induced dreams or for some other mind irregularity is irrelevant.
His personality is defined not by its psychotic or delusional state but by the amount of feeling and emotion the narrator has towards this woman. If she is thought up the entity, it still does not matter because the love and connection that the man feels are very real to him. If it is so real to him and he truly believes that it is the central part of his life, it is unimportant what others think and if they see Ligeia as a real person. Davis and Davis state that: “The narrator further describes her beauty in such exaggerated terms that the reader should realize he is not expected to accept her as real” (Davis and Davis 172).
But it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for a human mind to view or create an image that has not been seen before or comprehend something completely made up. Also, if the narrator voluntarily created the image and qualities of Ligeia, than the important question would be, as to why he did it, what made him decide to do it? This sort of want or need cannot be called conscious because people do not create their passions and products of infatuation by themselves; something unconscious is the real basis. Another negating point to Ligeia being imaginary is why would the narrator or his mind make her die if she was the center of his life?
If his brain created such a fantasy, then they could exist forever in his imagination, until his own death. Of course, his mind could be the one deciding to take Ligeia away, exactly the same way it has brought her to life but then, an even bigger question of whether a person’s brain is separate from the conscious understanding of reality comes to being and this is a completely different aspect altogether. Maybe, this is what Allan Poe had in mind, to show people that emotions and love are not produced by the brain but a force much more complicated than humans can imagine. In case Ligeia was a real person, the explanation could be completely different but it would not be a simple description of strong love and affection towards a woman, as the simplest explanation is not the style of Edgar Allan Poe. Since the fact that the narrator is not in full control of the mind, this is made very apparent by the author, it could mean that Ligeia and Rowena are really the same people and the confusion between the two is caused by the ever-changing perception of the narrator.
Roy Basler, in his work “The Interpretation of Ligeia”, talks about the need for a psychoanalytical approach in the understanding of Alana Poe’s works. He writes that: “an understanding of the non-rational makes necessary an almost complete reversal of certain critical opinions and explanations which assume that the story is a tale of the supernatural” (Basler 364). He goes on to discuss that people need a special understanding of Allan Poe and his work, a different psychological perspective, in order to see what the author really means in his works. But in reality, Edgar Allan Poe wanted to show that every person’s mind is truly supernatural.
Very often it is difficult to explain the processes that go on in a person’s brain and Poe understood this. The fact that he wrote a story which can be interpreted in a limitless amount of ways proves that people cannot really contemplate and pinpoint neither the location nor the source of thoughts and feelings. The technology has allowed understanding the mechanism of the human brain, as well as the anatomy but where feelings such as love, devotion, and self-sacrifice are stored, no one knows. Allan Poe separates “Ligeia” into three distinct parts that are very noticeable. The first part is his extraordinary love for a woman and it does not really matter whether she is real or not. The second part is the specific and detailed description of the “chamber” where the narrator and Rowena spend the ending of the story.
The final part unites the immaterial feelings of love and the reality of the physical world—the room. A lot of attention Edgar Poe gives to the drawings on the cloth and the style of the “candelabra” and they are both made to represent forces that are not clearly understood by humans. Allan Poe mentions the changing picture on the cloth when the angle of the viewer changes, this represents the difference in perspectives that people might have. The connection between the obvious and unknown is not accidental and Allan Poe must have given a lot of thought to the way the mind works before writing stories such as “Ligeia”. The end of the story represents the coming together of the two worlds, one which is not clearly understood and the obvious one. The style is very mystical and connects the love of the narrator with the impossibility of one woman replacing another or possibly, them being one person.
As previously mentioned, there are eternal ways to understand the story “Ligeia” but, the moral perspectives and divinity of life and humans are the goal of the author. He wanted to show that people are not given full control of their minds, there are some order and understanding of what goes on but the forces that are much greater than human understanding are the true rulers of the world.
Basler, Roy. “The Interpretation of Ligeia.” College English 5.7 (1944): 363-372. Print.
Davis, Jack and June Davis. “Poe’s Ethereal Ligeia.” The Bulletin of the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association 24.4 (1970): 170-176. Print.