Theme of Marriage and Symbolism in Short Story Ligeia by Edgar Allen Poe and Novel Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Ligeia, by Edgar Allen Poe, has an interesting start to the story. It is common for most love stories to explain how two people met, or even their past. This backstory usually sets the setting and allows the reader to watch the characters grow and develop and their interactions with the people around them along with how their relationship interacts with the people around them Poe does something different.
In Ligeia, the speaker does not remember how exactly he met her. “I cannot, for my soul, remember how, when, or even precisely where, I first became acquainted with the lady Ligeia.” (Poe, Ligeia). The reason why we don’t see how Ligeia and the speaker met is to preserve the story. By knowing little about how they met, we can focus the actual relationship and the interaction between the characters. Since the ground work is already laid, there is no need to explain stories or events in the character’s past lives.
Marriage is an interesting concept in this story. The narrator idolizes Ligeia. He notes her astounding beauty, depth of knowledge, and sees her as a Goddess. “In beauty of face no maiden ever equalled her. It was the radiance of an opium-dream—an airy and spirit-lifting vision more wildly divine than the phantasies which hovered vision about the slumbering souls of the daughters of Delos. … The hue of the orbs was the most brilliant of black, and, far over them, hung jetty lashes of great length. The brows, slightly irregular in outline, had the same tint. The “strangeness,” however, which I found in the eyes, was of a nature distinct from the formation, or the color, or the brilliancy of the features, and must, after all, be referred to the expression. Ah, word of no meaning! behind whose vast latitude of mere sound we intrench our ignorance of so much of the spiritual. The expression of the eyes of Ligeia!” (Poe Ligeia). The narrator uses an unprecedented amount of detail to describe Ligeia and her beauty. Additionally, this is a gothic piece. Using those two previous ideas, I feel that this might be the first time the narrator has experienced marriage.
As the story continues, we see that Ligeia falls ill and eventually passes. Before she passes she makes it a point to tell the speaker how in love she is with him and her passion for live. “But in death only, was I fully impressed with the strength of her affection. For long hours, detaining my hand, would she pour out before me the overflowing of a heart whose more than passionate devotion amounted to idolatry.” (Poe, Ligeia). After Ligeia passes, he does something interesting that I did not see coming. Instead of taking the time to mourn the loss of Ligeia, he actually goes and gets married to a new maiden named Rowena. “ I had become a bounden slave in the trammels of opium, and my labors and my orders had taken a coloring from my dreams. But these absurdities I must not pause to detail.
Let me speak only of that one chamber, ever accursed, whither in a moment of mental alienation, I led from the altar as my bride—as the successor of the unforgotten Ligeia—the fair-haired and blue-eyed Lady Rowena Trevanion, of Tremaine.” (Poe, Ligeia). Since the speaker’s first attempt at marriage was with Ligeia, the feeling of loss and lack of love overcame him. These feelings caused him to go out and attempt to find another “Ligeia” that would give him the same experience as his passed wife did. But, since no two people are identical, this idea goes wrong. He soon realises that she is nothing like Ligeia. Rowena also embodies a beautiful body, but instead, has blonde hair and her views differ drastically from Ligeia’s.
While Ligeia was about metaphysical ideas, Rowena is extremely down to Earth, similar to a spirit the typical “hippie” would embody. She is concerned with the physical world. We begin to see the speaker realise the Ligeia is gone forever, as much as he knows, and his dislike grows towards his new companion. “That my wife dreaded the fierce moodiness of my temper—that she shunned me and loved me but little—I could not help perceiving; but it gave me rather pleasure than otherwise. I loathed her with a hatred belonging more to demon than to man.” (Poe, Ligeia). After sometime, the speaker notices that his wife does not love him anymore. During this time, the speaker actually remembers flashbacks of Ligeia and calls them out into the night. “My memory flew back, (oh, with what intensity of regret!) to Ligeia, the beloved, the august, the beautiful, the entombed. I revelled in recollections of her purity, of her wisdom, of her lofty, her ethereal nature, of her passionate, her idolatrous love. Now, then, did my spirit fully and freely burn with more than all the fires of her own. In the excitement of my opium dreams (for I was habitually fettered in the shackles of the drug) I would call aloud upon her name, during the silence of the night, or among the sheltered recesses of the glens by day, as if, through the wild eagerness, the solemn passion, the consuming ardor of my longing for the departed, I could restore her to the pathway she had abandoned—ah, could it be forever?—upon the earth.” (Poe, Ligeia). Eventually, Rowena becomes very sick and passes. Throughout the speaker’s entire experience, Ligeia was always on his mind, even when married to Rowena.
The strong connection between the two actually brings Ligeia back to her living form. “One bound, and I had reached her feet! Shrinking from my touch, she let fall from her head, unloosened, the ghastly cerements which had confined it, and there streamed forth, into the rushing atmosphere of the chamber, huge masses of long and dishevelled hair; it was blacker than the raven wings of the midnight! And now slowly opened the eyes of the figure which stood before me. “Here then, at least,” I shrieked aloud, “can I never—can I never be mistaken—these are the full, and the black, and the wild eyes—of my lost love—of the lady—of the LADY LIGEIA.”” (Poe, Ligeia). It can be argued that Ligeia coming back was just another intense trip caused by the opium or that Ligeia really did return. Either way, the fact that Ligeia did return shows that the bond between the two characters was so strong that it was able to be felt in the beyond where Ligeia was for a portion of the story. We can see that this was the speaker’s first time in a marriage situation because he was very childish about how he handled the situations. He did not take enough time to mourn his loss, also, while in his second marriage, he would cry out flash backs and memories of his past relationship in front of his wife. Additionally, when his second wife dies, his reaction is not the same as his first reaction to Ligeia’s death. Lastly, his actions towards Rowena and Ligeia during their deaths are also very different. While in Rowena’s death, he kind of accepts it, while during Ligeia’s death, they are both confessing their love to each other while Ligeia confesses and shows here desire to live.
In the story of Young Goodman Brown, the ending is far from a happy ending. In the beginning of the story, we find out the wife of Brown is named Faith. We can immediately see that Howthorne is symbolizing that Brown’s relationship with his religion as very strong; since his wife’s name is also Faith. When we first meet Brown, he is young, self centered, and believes that everything that he sees is reality. Although he has thoughts of wickedness and sin, he thinks that he is the only one who’ve ever had these thoughts. ““My love and my Faith,” replied young Goodman Brown, “of all nights in the year, this one night must I tarry away from thee. My journey, as thou callest it, forth and back again, must needs be done ‘twixt now and sunrise. What, my sweet, pretty wife, dost thou doubt me already, and we but three months married!” (Hawthorne, 2).
We can see that, religiously, his faith is indirectly telling Brown that it’s not a good idea to go into the forest, rather, stay home and comfort your wife. Brown being naive, he disregards his wife’s plea and gives into temptation and journey’s out into the forest to randevu with the mysterious man that he made a promise to. Brown starts his venture into the forest. Soon after entering, he starts to become fearful, and thinks of the devil. Moments later, the devil appears in strangely familiar form and approaches him. Besides his staff, we learn that this form the devil has taken on while accompanying Brown reseblems his father. “Still, they might have been taken for father and son.” (Hawthorne, 13). As the two are walking, Brown insists that he turn around and return home, but the figure notes that his father, grandfather, and important town folk, such as the governor, have walked this same path before. “ I helped your grandfather, the constable, when he lashed the Quaker woman so smartly through the streets of Salem. And it was I that brought your father a pitch-pine knot, kindled at my own hearth, to set fire to an Indian village, in king Philip’s war.
They were my good friends, both; and many a pleasant walk have we had along this path, and returned merrily after midnight. I would fain be friends with you, for their sake.”(Hawthorne, 18). At this point, we can see how deception and sin are starting to get to Brown. Since the devil has taken on the form of Brown’s father, Brown starts to realise that what he sees as reality, everyone being all religious and close to God, might not be the actual reality of what’s really going on. Everyone has sin in them. At this point, the only hope that Brown has left is his wife Faith. Symbolically, he is reaching out to his religion. But when he cries, no one/ nothing responds, just a single pink ribbon falls from the sky, Faith’s ribbon. “The cry of grief, rage, and terror, was yet piercing the night, when the unhappy husband held his breath for a response. There was a scream, drowned immediately in a louder murmur of voices, fading into far-off laughter, as the dark cloud swept away, leaving the clear and silent sky above Goodman Brown. But something fluttered lightly down through the air, and caught on the branch of a tree.
The young man seized it, and beheld a pink ribbon. “My Faith is gone!” cried he, after one stupefied moment. “There is no good on earth; and sin is but a name. Come, devil! for to thee is this world given.” (Hawthorne, 49-50). At this point, Brown’s entire belief system is corrupted. In his most time of need, his Faith abandoned him, ironically, much like he did to Faith when he left to enter the forest. Boiled up with despair and anger, Brown runs deeper into the forest to a ceremony where he finds people from the town surrounding an alter with a woman in the middle, that woman is Faith. ““Faith! Faith!” cried the husband. “Look up to Heaven, and resist the Wicked One!” (Hawthorne, 68). What’s interesting about this scene is that Faith was also in the forest. What makes this so interesting is that both Brown and Faith knew that going into the forest at night was a sinful act, but they still carried through their plans.
This is similar to the story when Eve ate from the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden after being specifically told not to by God. It’s important to note this religious event because the Puritans were very religious. Additionally, it shows the concept of original sin. Seeing familiar towns people in the forest proves that even they went against what was right, and sinned by going into the forest. The use of the shapeshifting devil form also proves that everyone is touched with original sin due to the incident in the Garden of Eden. So although the devil may look like a father to Brown, he could take on a form of someone else to someone else but still prove the same point. Even when Brown tries to forget about his vivid dream, he is still affected by the sinful acts that occurred. Since the nature of his dream was so sacreligious, he struggles with the normality of the next day. “But Goodman Brown looked sternly and sadly into her face, and passed on without a greeting.” (Hawthorne, 70).
Overall, we can see that both Brown and the speaker in Ligeia both have never been married before. Ligeia’s husband not being able to let go or mourn when she passes, we can see that he jumps to another female to attempt to get that same feeling he had with Ligeia. When this happens, we notice that he starts to despise his new counterpart. Additionally, he still calls for Ligeia at night, even when she’s not around. When Rowena eventually passes and Ligiea reappears, we can also see that he has no remorse for Rowena as he is pleasantly surprised to see Ligeia. ““Here then, at least,” I shrieked aloud, “can I never—can I never be mistaken—these are the full, and the black, and the wild eyes—of my lost love—of the lady—of the LADY LIGEIA.” (Poe, Ligeia).
In Brown’s case, his childish nature gets the best of him, and he gives into temptation by going into the woods at night. During that time period, going into the woods at night assumed that you were practicing devil worship; it could have been punishable by death in some cases. Getting back on track, when Brown notices the devil looks like his father, he starts to realise that everyone has sin in them. This idea is confirmed when he notices familiar townspeople at the satanic ritual that night, including his wife.
Marriage wise, we note that Brown attempts to forget about his dream and who was in it, but can not. He knows that he and many others have sinned, even if it was in a dream, it still happened. This starts to show that everyone has ideas of sinning, and the world he lives in, is not what he thought it once was.
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