In the 1800s there was a widely accepted ideology of what characteristics made up a woman and a man. The man was supposed to be reasonable, rational, and unaffected by his emotions. Women, on the other hand, were the exact opposite: irrational and completely taken over by emotion. Poe did not necessarily reverse these roles in all of his works, but he definitely toyed with them, giving the majority of his characters the characteristics of both men and women of the time.
In Poe’s “Annabel Lee” both the persona and his lover seem womanly, “But we loved with a love that was more than a love- I and my Annabel Lee” (lines 9-10). They are both overtaken by such an intense affection and love for one another that it is more than a love. This could mean that they worshipped or were even obsessed with each other. Such an immense passion was typically only seen in woman during this time. Also, the narrator blames the death of Annabel Lee on the angels, who were, “…not half so happy in Heaven” and “went envying her and me” (21-22). Angels do not get jealous. This statement shows the immaturity of the narrator who, as a man, should be sophisticated in all of his ways. Towards the end of the poem another womanly characteristic arises in him, irrationality. Even after the death of Annabel Lee their souls are inseparable. His inability to let go leads the narrator to venture out each night and sleep next to the woman he loves so dearly. In reality, no person of sound mind would ever choose to sleep next to a rotting corpse night after night.
In “Ligeia” Poe did indeed flip the roles of men and women. Although Ligeia does have a “…placid cast of beauty” and a certain eloquence in her voice, these seem to be her only womanly characteristics (pg. 644). She is not very emotional; in fact she is even described in the first paragraph as having “adapted to deaden impressions of the outside world.” The only time she does show some sort of emotion is towards the end of her life, when she would
“…pour out before me the overflowings of a heart whose more than passionate devotion amounted to idolatry” (648). Up until now the only feelings that were evident were those of the narrator. Poe also makes clear Ligeia’s obvious intellectual dominance over her husband in the following line, “I was sufficiently aware of her infinite supremacy to resign myself, with a childlike confidence, to her guidance through the chaotic world…” (pg. 647). This line is very important when discussing gender roles because not only does the narrator admire Ligeia’s immeasurable intelligence, but he looks up to her for guidance through life and the acquisition of knowledge, which is the opposite of a stereotypical marriage during the nineteenth century. He also describes himself as childish which carries along with it the connotation of immaturity and naivety, characteristics typical of women according to the society Poe lived in.
Although this paper only discusses two of Poe’s numerous literary works it is evident that his idea of what differentiates a woman from a man was skewed from that of society during the time period in which he lived. Women in Poe’s mind were sagacious, rational, and strong willed. Men, on the other hand, tended to be more womanly than the women, allowing themselves to be engulfed by their emotions and showing little to no rationality. Works Cited
Poe, Edgar Allan. “Annabel Lee.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 8th edition. Nina Baym, Robert S. Levine, Julia Reidhead, Carly Frasier Doria. Crawfordsville, IL: W. W. Norton and Company, Inc, 2012. Print. Poe, Edgar Allan. “Ligeia.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 8th edition. Nina Baym, Robert S. Levine, Julia Reidhead, Carly Frasier Doria. Crawfordsville, IL: W. W. Norton and Company, Inc, 2012. Print.