Edgar Allan Poe: Narrative Structure in "Ligeia"

Essay by JdudersUniversity, Bachelor'sA, August 2004

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Jenny Maguire

English- Americas

Narrative Structure Paper


Known for his flowing descriptive and gothic style, Edgar Allan Poe does not appear to develop any obvious narrative structure in his work. His short stories are generally identified with the gloomy, desolate, and horrifically shocking sensations they spark within the reader. Particularly in his short story, "Ligeia," Poe seems to have done away with any sort of apparent structure within the story. Rather, he portrays it as a mixture of somewhat chronological events combined with the wandering thoughts from the eccentric mind of the narrator. However, narrative structure lies beyond the simple storyline of plot and can be revealed within many other elements of a story. In "Ligeia," the elements of theme and repetition play an important role in developing and maintaining its narrative structure. In particular, Poe seems to stress one interestingly repeated quote, as it appears four times throughout the story.

"Man doth not yield him to the angels, nor unto death utterly, save only through the weakness of his feeble will" (1, 1, 4, 7). From the continual emphasis of this quotation, there arises a principle notion of a tension between the predominant themes of life and death. Furthermore, this notion constitutes the backbone of the story from which all other recognizable themes subsequently branch from. The themes of death, guilt, life, and opium - the factor that questions the validity of all - provide recognizable markers to the overriding theme of the tension between life and death within "Ligeia."

The pervading theme of death fills Poe's writing and creates an omnipresent atmosphere of dark apprehension. The movement of the text incessantly alludes to the upcoming death of Ligeia. All the familiar characteristics of her person (her wildly effulgent eyes, her interest in the narrator's studies...) gradually fade...