Term of Award

Fall 2012

Degree Name

Master of Arts in English (M.A.)

Document Type and Release Option

Thesis (open access)

Copyright Statement / License for Reuse

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


Department of Literature and Philosophy

Committee Chair

Caren Town

Committee Member 1

Timothy Whelan

Committee Member 2

Richard Flynn

Committee Member 3

Richard Flynn


Poe's short story "Ligeia" and its companion poem "The Conqueror Worm" have garnered little critical attention, though he believed them to be his best works. Considering the archetypal image of the worm, contemporary references, and Poe's other uses of the symbol, an analysis of the poem and its context within the short story reveals the identity of the "hero" described in the final verse. This paper explores the archetypal nature of the worm by looking at snake myths from across the globe and applying Platonic/Jungian ideas to the image and its function in the poem. This work also discusses the worm symbol in the work of Poe and his contemporaries, along with biographical information that provides insight into other symbols in the poem and the short story. The information considered demonstrates the poem's allegorical nature with multiple layers of meaning including an interpretation for the individual, for mankind, and for the universe. Finally, though the prevalence of snake myth would lead to its equation with the Miltonic serpent and its cross-cultural counterparts, the "blood-red" and "writhing" creature represents death as a beginning. Using mythos, Poe's contemporary knowledge, and Poe's own writings leads to the conclusion that the "conqueror" is the deathless soul of the lowly "worm," man. Poe plays out this idea in "Ligeia" where she, a human, succeeds in conquering the primordial power of death.

Research Data and Supplementary Material