masque red death

What is a comparative/thematic analysis of the shadow self, obsession, and the will to live in Poe's stories "The Masque of the Red Death" and "Ligeia"?


Both the narratives of "Ligeia" and "The Masque of the Red Death" dramatize the human desire to conquer death through the power of the will.

In "Ligeia," death is conquered by means of the determination of the will. The narrator feels that there is a connection between part of the character of his beloved Ligeia, who possessed "a stern passion," and the beliefs in the supernatural of Joseph Glanvill, an English moralist who contended:

Man doth not yield himself to the angels, nor unto death utterly, save only through the weakness of his feeble will.

After her death, the narrator reflects upon Ligeia's energy, her knowledge, and her confidence. When she became ill, she fiercely resisted death:

Yet not until the last instance, amid the most convulsive writhings of her fierce spirit, was the external placidity of her demeanor shaken.

Nevertheless, despite her "eager vehemence of desire for life," Ligeia died, her body exhausted. However, her will has survived because it is reborn in the narrator's second wife Rowena, whose dead body is directed by the narrator's own desires of perceiving her by means of his shadow self. This part of his unconscious mind possesses the desire for his beloved Ligeia. His creative energy—"a whirl of violent emotions"—then summons Ligeia's powerful will and Rowena's body begins to display the "hues of life." Soon, the body stirs and the narrator examines Rowena. Somehow she appears taller, and as she removes the "ghastly cerements" from her head, her hair is blacker and her eyes are black, "the wild eyes of ... the Lady Ligeia."

Similarly, "The Masque of the Red Death" exhibits the theme of the will to conquer death. However, while the prince, Prospero, possesses this will to conquer death, he engages in battle with this enemy by means of physical defenses and distractions designed to eliminate the fear of death, rather than by employing the force of the spirit. Prospero's obsessive and elaborate attempts are futile because death slips into the midst of his guests, who shrink at the toll of the hour from the "brazen lungs" of the clock, and in their trepidation and lack of will fall prey to their mortality.

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