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Dream of Ligeia, Reality of Rowena

Dream of Ligeia, Reality of Rowena

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Published by api-3703506
Edgar Allan Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher" and "Ligeia"
Edgar Allan Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher" and "Ligeia"

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Published by: api-3703506 on Oct 18, 2008
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03/18/2014

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Gloria Lloyd
English 255- Section 7
Franklin Ridgway
December 10, 2004

The Dream of Ligeia and the Fall of the House of Usher

In his short story \u201cLigeia,\u201d Edgar Allan Poe uses the idea of doubling to
demonstrate the differences between the worlds the narrator is caught between\u2014a
dream-world, represented by Ligeia, and his actual reality, represented by Rowena. Poe
uses these doubles, Ligeia and Rowena, to interact with the narrator and show the
conflicts he faces as he sinks into madness. With the unique symmetry they lend the
story, the characters of Ligeia and Rowena interact to give it new meaning. The two
characters guide the narrator through both the \u201creal\u201d world and a \u201cdream\u201d world. The use
of the doppelganger is also an essential element of Poe\u2019s short story \u201cThe Fall of the
House of Usher,\u201d in which Madeline and Roderick are more than twins\u2014they become
the same person. The house they live in, also referred to as the \u201cHouse of Usher,\u201d
represents their isolation from the world, and with its barely perceptible fissure, it
represents the fatal flaw in the Ushers\u2019 family which will finally bring them both to their
demise.The narrator of \u201cLigeia\u201d chooses to live in a world completely detached from

reality, a world which only consists of himself and his beloved first wife, Ligeia. Ligeia
is his preferred dark and dreamy world personified, and his second wife Rowena
epitomizes the narrator\u2019s everyday, whitewashed, sunlight-filled reality, an unwanted
anchor of mundanity that eventually drives the narrator insane. Ligeia is a dream, and
Rowena, by the very essence of her not being Ligeia, is a constant reminder of what the

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narrator is missing. The narrator seems to view Ligeia as a gate to something that is not
what he has right now\u2014the past or the future, anything but his present with Rowena.

Ligeia was the narrator\u2019s first wife, but that is the most detailed information the
narrator provides about her. From the beginning, Ligeia\u2019s story assumes an aura of
mystery\u2014in the first sentence of his tale, the narrator admits, \u201cI cannot, for my soul,
remember how, when, or even precisely where I first became acquainted with the lady
Ligeia\u201d (Poe 1525). Nevertheless, she is his \u201cbeloved,\u201d his \u201cfriend and betrothed\u201d (Poe
1525), despite his odd memory lapse. The narrator tells us from the beginning that he can
be less than reliable on facts. He gives a lengthy but oddly vague description of Ligeia, in
which she seems more dead than alive. Dark and beautiful with intensity and
intelligence, Ligeia has hair \u201cblacker than the raven wings at midnight\u201d and black eyes
(Poe 1534). She is emaciated and extremely pale, with \u201ca placid cast of beauty,\u201d and she
has \u201clow, musical language,\u201d a very low voice (Poe 1526). The narrator\u2019s odd
descriptions are compounded by the narrator's admission that he never knew her family
name, even though he is sure that she regaled him with many stories of her family, which
he cannot recall. Why does he not remember all these seemingly important details
concerning Ligeia? Why would she not tell him her last name? Did she even have a last
name? It appears that Ligeia has no mother or father\u2014 indeed, that her origins are
something different than human.

Ligeia is so mysterious that she naturally becomes representative of the
supernatural elements of the story, such as the opium-laced dreams of the narrator, and
his dreams of her, in which she \u201ccomes and departs like a shadow\u201d or a \u201cphantasy\u201d (Poe
1525, 1530). Ligeia\u2019s appearances in the narrator\u2019s dreams are like a shadow, just as his

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memories are only shadows of what the lady Ligeia must have been. And the face of
Ligeia\u2019s that the narrator describes is like a shadow, only an outline of what she could
possibly look like. But his second description of his first wife is much more concrete, or
at least his words seem to be. The narrator establishes that Ligeia could have been one of
the great Eastern beauties, with some Hebraic touches. But by establishing her as one of
these great beauties, comparable with someone who would have associated with the
mythological god Apollo, or a character in a Homeric epithet, the narrator establishes
Ligeia as not a real person at all, but merely anidea of what beauty should be. Even in
describing her most prominent feature, her large eyes, the narrator resorts to vague
clich\u00e9s, and he knows it: \u201ctheexpression. Ah, word of no meaning!\u201d (Poe 1526)
Ligeia\u2019s \u201cexpression\u201d seems to be the most distinctive feature of her eyes, as opposed to
color or something more tangible.

Could Ligeia actually be a real woman? Ligeia seems so perfectly constructed,
yet ethereal and beyond actual description, that it seems the most likely scenario is that
she is a construct of the narrator\u2019s mind. From the narrator\u2019s descriptions of her, he
seems to be inventing Ligeia as he continues his tale, constructing his perfect dream
woman out of bits and pieces of what he thinks would be an ideal woman. Just as his
abbey is a physical collection of the remnants of disparate cultures, a room composed of
many elements representing the narrator\u2019s fractured mind, Ligeia is a concoction of the
beauties and ideals of those same cultures the narrator admires. One does not have to
wonder how Ligeia could possibly possess both Oriental eyes and a nose like the
Hebrews, because this woman exists only in the narrator\u2019s imagination. Ligeia is an
idealized creation, hovering in the background of the narrator\u2019s mind while he disengages3

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