Poe's Short Stories

Discovering Ligeia: Immortality, Transcendentalism and The Search For The Unknown

Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘Ligeia’ is one of the most simultaneously celebrated and contested of all his works. In scholarship, there is debate over many facets of the tale, including the sanity and reliability of the narrator, the cause of Rowena’s death, the truth behind Ligeia’s revival and the questionability of her existence. While a multitude of theories have been mounted in addressing these points, the results are frequently inconclusive, owing to the seemingly deliberate lack of evidence provided within the story sufficient for solving the mystery it presents. Rather than attempting to extract answers to the many unknowns, this essay will instead locate the larger questions surrounding immortality that the story imparts. First, a broad interpretation of the tale will be offered, followed and supported by an analysis of the passage in which Rowena meets her death.

Individual interpretations aside, there can be no debate that one of the story’s most central questions pertains to the notion of human mortality. Evidence of this is provided in the opening epigraph attributed to Joseph Glanvill, which is repeated throughout the story. The epigraph claims, ‘Man doth not yield himself to the angels, nor to death utterly, save only...

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