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In the nineteenth century, dark, threatening, horrific, morbid, depressing, bizarre, bewildering and death are just some words that describe the most popular type of literature: dark romanticism. One man's name can summarize these words, Edgar Allan Poe; he is considered to be one of the greatest obscure American authors. People throughout history often wondered why Poe's writings are so diverse and unusual, why his literary style is dark, and why he has so many supernatural connotations in his writings. Poe's writing style remained ambiguous until he defined his strict personal guidelines for writing his short stories.In 1836, Poe discussed the three main components of a successful short story- an invisible person, a wandering figure, and the elixir vitae, the elixir of life or some kind of life force(Succur).In 1842, Poe described his well-known theory "unity of effect" which suggests that every element of a story should help develop a single emotional impact and that the story should be read in one sitting. Poe illustrates his famous theories in "Ligeia"; he highlights the complex genre of American romanticism along with the supernatural by the use of Ligeia's mysterious character, the unknown narrator, and Ligeia's resurrection. "Ligeia" is considered an excellent example in which Poe's short story guidelines are quite evident as he creates a united effect by connecting all the features of the story together.
"Ligeia" emphasizes the elixir of life theory, which describes immortality, eternal life, and eternal youth.Typically, when reading Poe's "Ligeia", one is never safe to make an assumption that the dead are completely gone as death is never the end. Accordingly, the dead are immortal and somehow they always resurrect.In the short story, Ligeia grows ill and eventually dies; however, she apparently triumphs over death, takes over Lady Rowena's body, and comes back to life. Just before the death of Ligeia, she states a quote from Joseph Glanvill's passage, "Man doth not yield him to the angels, nor unto death utterly, save only through the weakness of his feeble will" (Poe 3). The epigraph foreshadows that the power of will Ligeia seems to have achieved will bring her back to life(Heller 4). Nonetheless, Ligeia's resurrection is questionable as the narrator is high on "an immoderate dose of opium" throughout the whole story.Consequently, Ligeia's resurrection from the grave might be one of the narrator's hallucinations(Poe 9). Ideally, Poe highlights the theme of the elixir of life to set the climax of the story.Subsequently, the narrator's conception of the resurrection of Ligeia is essential as it determines whether Ligeia came back to life or the narrator's desire to have Ligeia back leads him to hallucinate the whole, strange resurrection scene.Through the use of the unity of effect theory, Poe creates an emotional effect on the readers by leaving them in a state of dilemma and uncertainty as he forces the readers to choose Ligeia's fate.
In addition, in "Ligeia", the reader might assume that our unknown narrator is the wandering figure.To start with, Poe establishes that Ligeia is not a real physical character. At the beginning of the story, the author writes that "I cannot, for my soul, remember how, when, or even precisely where, I first became acquainted with the lady Ligeia" (Poe 1). He continues "I have never known the paternal name of her'' (Poe 1). Even though Ligeia's significance to the narrator is supposedly great, the narrator's knowledge of his first wife's personal details is obscure. Therefore, the narrator's failure to remember Ligeia's last name and to recollect where they first met is an apparent characteristic of a wandering figure. It could be highly unlikely that the narrator was literally married to a physical woman named Ligeia (Davis 173). However, Poe soon offers an explanation when he writes that the narrator is "habitually fettered in the shackles of [opium]" (Poe 6). This is notable because opium is a hallucinogen that often results in wild dreams of which one can remember only very little after they conclude.For instance, an opium user like the narrator might have a hallucination in which he marries a girl such as Ligeia, only to forget the last name of his imaginary wife upon becoming sober. And indeed, Poe confirms that Ligeia is an opium-inspired dream with his description of Ligeia's beauty as "the radiance of an opium dream" (Poe 1). Poe almost certainly chose this description deliberately of Ligeia; in combination with the previous information about the narrator's opium addiction, then, it becomes increasingly likely that Ligeia is merely a character in an opium-induced hallucination (Byers 45). Overall Poe's concise description of Ligeia's and the narrator's marriage leaves some readers puzzled about the truth of their relationship.Subsequently, introducing the narrator as a wandering figure serves the unity of effect theory as it proves that Ligeia is the result of the narrator's hallucinations and she never really existed outside the narrator's mind.
The theory of invisible person is frequent in the majority of supernatural literature. In the short story, one might assume that Ligeia is the invisible person as she is presumed to be the product of the narrator's hallucinations. Poe continues to provide evidence that Ligeia is not real as he describes her. For instance, Poe writes that Ligeia does not walk like an actual woman, but rather "[comes] and [departs] as a shadow" (Poe 1).Poe's description of Ligeia should be read literally as Ligeia is indeed a shadow in the sense that she is an apparition (Davis 174). Poe also praises Ligeia's eyes as "far larger than the ordinary eyes of our own race," hinting that the narrator's mental image of Ligeia is so distorted that in his mind, she no longer resembles a human (Poe 2). Even Ligeia's voice is unreal - she does not speak in any human language; rather, "her low sweet voice" sings "dear music" (Poe 1). All these features are indicative of Ligeia's too good to be true nature; they all demonstrate that throughout the story, the narrator is fantasizing about a fictional woman who does not physically exist. Overall, Poe achieves the unity of effect through Ligeia's character as she builds up the atmosphere to bring immense pathos to the reader.
Poe emphasizes the importance of the unity of effect, claiming that all elements in a short story, including the plot, the characters, the incidents and the mood, should develop a single effect on the readers. Ligeia is bringing together in her character the different elements of the story, thus making visible the necessary interconnections that form the "undercurrent of meaning" that lends its unity of effect to the tale(Anastasaki 218). Through Ligeia's character, Poe was able to combine the elixir of life, invisible person, and wandering figure theories to create a united short story that evokes the reader's emotion and exerts an influence on the reader's mind.