This was an essay I wrote in English class as a response to Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.”
The Raven: Analysis and Interpretation
Analysis and interpretation of Literature is a great art form. The reader must read through the story or poem several times in order to gain a clear understanding of the work and its meaning. “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe is a remarkable example of a work that has been interpreted in many different ways. I intend to analyze why he used a black raven as a symbol of prophetic significance. The ghastly raven, along with other notable symbols, are one of the many reasons Edgar Allan Poe remains to be one of the most recognizable authors throughout American history.
The story begins on a cold night in December. The unnamed male narrator, whose wife Lenore has presumably died, is napping in his home and awoken by a sudden tapping sound. He is trying to overcome the sorrow from her loss. The narrator tries to address the person or object making the strange tapping sound and no response is heard. The narrator then opens the door to see where the sound is coming from on and discovers that nobody is there. He then goes back inside and the tapping sound continues. He opens the door an investigates a second time, “Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter, In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore; Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he; But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—Perched, and sat, and nothing more.” (Poe, 1028-1031.)
The narrator then continues to ask the raven to state its name and is surprised to hear it croak “nevermore.” He initially assumes this Raven is exhibiting the parrot like tendencies of repeating words and phrases uttered by the creature’s human counterparts. Online articles have indicated the Poe intended to use a parrot as the main symbol, however, he decided that a raven would better fit the poems melancholy tone. However, the narrator’s reaction to this Raven radically changes as the poem progresses onward. Those endeared feelings change to perplexed when he questions why the Raven continues to croak “nevermore.” Perplexed then changes to downright unhinged. “Be that word our sign in parting, bird or fiend,” I shrieked, upstarting- “Get the back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian’s shore! Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken! Leave my loneliness unbroken! – quit the bust above my door! Take thy beak from out of my heart, and take thy form from off my door! Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore!” (Poe, 1028-1031.) The raven seems to be taunting the narrator and reminding him that he will not be able to see his lost Lenore in heaven. He allowed its taunts to push him into a satanic rage.
I, like many other readers, initially questioned why Poe would write such a dark and mysterious poem about death and the inability to overcome from grief. Reading about his life gave me a very clear perspective. Internet blogs and articles have indicated that “The Raven” was simply a rehearsal for the ultimate grief that American author Edgar Allan Poe was bound to experience. His wife, Virginia was playing piano and singing at an opera house when she suddenly began coughing up blood. It became apparent to Poe that those were symptoms of the deadly disease now known as tuberculosis. The Raven was simply a preparatory piece for the grief he was destined to experience when Virginia was to lose her battle with tuberculosis. (Women’s History Blog: Virginia Clemm.) Poe chose death as the central theme because it is an inevitable topic that we all face at some point in our lives. I especially appreciated line 89. “Is there balm in Gilead? Tell me – tell me, I implore.” (Poe, 1028-1031.) It is a reference to the old testament verse Jerimiah 8:22. Our church has often sung a hymn inspired by that verse titled “There Is a Balm in Gilead.” Poe obviously didn’t strike me as the religious type. Nevertheless, it certainly reminded me how dealing with a loved one’s death of a loved one can certainly seem like there is no “balm in Gilead.” Knowing such a truth begs one important question. Could Poe have deliberately portrayed this Raven as more than just an innocent bird parroting words and phrases uttered by its human counter parts? Could he have actually portrayed it as a satanic force that insists on reminding the narrator that he is doomed to eternal damnation and will never see his lost Lenore in heaven? I am sure this question would receive a variety of answers.
As one can see, Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” has become one of the most recognizable works in American literature. The work is a very real reminder that people react to death in many different ways. Some are able to overcome the pain and marry again. Others, however, fall into deep sorrow and depression because they cannot cope. The American classic gave us a glimpse into Poe’s life and how he dealt with his wife’s diagnosis of tuberculosis. It gives us all a reminder about the importance of finding a way to cope with death.
Poe, Edgar-Allan “The Raven.” The Norton Introduction to Literature, 11th Ed. Kelly J. Mays.
NY: Norton, 2013. 1028-1031. Print
Hallqvist Christopher. “Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven.” Poe Decoder. 1998.
Web. 3 March 2016
Maggie MacLean. “Virginia Clemm: Wife of Author Edgar Allan Poe.”
History of American Women Blog. 8 April 2014. Web. 3 March 2016