In any story, there are three questions to ask about the narration of the story---What is the point of view in the story? From whose point of view is the story told? And is the narration reliable?
The question addresses the differences between the narration in “Ligeia,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” and “The Raven”---all written by Edgar Allan Poe. What are the commonalities in the narrations of the three works?
- All of them use first person point of view.
- All of the narrators are nameless.
- All three narrators might be considered unreliable.
What are the differences in the narrators of the literary pieces?
In “Ligeia,” the narrator is obsessed with his lost lover. The narrator knows little about Ligeia’s background or even her last name. On the other hand, he can convey everything about her presence---her mysterious eyes, her raven hair, her height, and her emaciation. The reader relies on the narrator for all of the information given in the story; and he is the only source concerning Ligeia. His bias makes his narration hard to trust. In addition, he often uses opium. He has a terrible memory and appears to be losing his mind. He is definitely an unreliable narrator because the reader cannot be sure that he is telling the truth.
“The Raven’s” narrator is similar to “Ligeia’s.” He too is obsessed by a lost love. He is also nameless. His focus becomes the odd bird that comes into the room. The reader may wonder if there really is a bird or has the narrator had too much Nepenthe, a drug of forgetfulness or antidepressant. This is a man so deep in his grief that he is on the edge of sanity. Fearful yet hoping that his dead lover Lenore will return from the dead, the man goes through the gamut of emotions ending the poem with the suggestion of suicide or the combining of his soul with the bird’s soul…it is definitely melodramatic and so is the narrator. He is also an unreliable narrator. He has been drinking, seeing a raven in his room, and hearing bells.
In “The Fall of the House of Usher,” the narration is first person; however, the narrator is not the main character. He is an observer, taking part in the action as he watches the deterioration of the Usher siblings. Nameless, the narrator gives little information about himself. As Roderick’s friend, the narrator helps him in his various activities particularly since he is so ill. His reliability must also be questioned since he is drawn in by Roderick’s persona.
Said to be the closest childhood friend of Roderick, the narrator knows little about him. He does not know that Roderick has a twin and was unaware of his alive in her tomb.
When Roderick admits that they have buried his sister alive in her tomb, the narrator is aghast:
As I placed my hand upon his shoulder, there came a strong shudder over his whole person; a sickly smile quivered about his lips; and I saw that he spoke in a low and gibbering murmur, as if unconscious of my presence. Bending closely over him, I at length drank in the hideous import of his words.
Too close to the events in the story, the narrator again should not be trusted entirely; yet, he is a peripheral observer and may see things more clearly than the other two narrators.
Was it an opium hallucination or the willed resurrection of Ligeia by her that circumvented death by sheer force of will spiritually in tuned with the hopeful narrator?