Last Updated 05 Jan 2023

An Analysis of the Themes of Pain and Grief in The Tell Tale Heart and The Raven

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Pain, grief, and regrets are all things one cannot forget about. Similarly, in Edgar Allan Poe's fictional works of literature, "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Raven," pain, grief, and regrets do not go away. In "The Tell-Tale Heart," there is an insane narrator who decides to take the life of an old man. The reason behind the murder is because of the old man's "vulture" looking eye (Poe 355). The guilt he feels after murdering the old man leads him to admit his crime. While, in "The Raven," there is a scholar, who grieves over his lost Lenore. He regrets taking her for granted until she passes away. After all the pain the speaker is going through, a Raven comes and adds more depression and darkness in his life. Henceforth, the desolation envelops the speaker. Throughout “The Raven" and "The Tell-Tale Heart," Poe exemplifies allusion and symbolism to create an effective story and poem.

To begin, Poe creates adequate pieces of literature by utilizing allusion, or a reference of something in the passage to another well-known figure. In "The Raven," when a Raven is already inside the speaker's house, it is "Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above [the narrator's] chamber door" (Poe 41). The Raven lands on a bust of Pallas, alluding to the Greek goddess of wisdom, Athena. Since the speaker has a statue of Pallas, it indirectly characterizes him as a scholar. In addition, the Raven repeats the word "Nevermore" throughout the poem; later on, the speaker says, "Tell me what thy lordly name is on the night's Plutonian shore"" (Poe 47).

The Plutonian shore alludes to Pluto, the Roman god of the underworld. Such precision of diction causes the allusions to become powerful to the overall meaning behind the poem. To continue, in "The Tell-Tale Heart," the narrator is about to murder the old man, and " [he] had directed the ray as if by instinct, precisely upon the damned spot" (Poe 357). The narrator refers to the old man's eye as "the damned spot", which alludes to Shakespeare's Macbeth.

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In Shakespeare's play, one of Lady Macbeth's most prominent lines are, “Out, damned spot". This is Lady Macbeth's way of getting rid of her guilt for murdering King Duncan. Similarly, the narrator in "The Tell- Tale Heart," attempts to get rid of his guilt, that is tormenting him, for killing the old man. Both characters suffer from delusions, but unlike Lady Macbeth, the narrator of "The Tell-Tale Heart" has gone mad long before committing the murder. This directly characterizes the narrator as preposterous. Poe supplies allusions throughout his works to make them deeper, and more valuable.

Continuing, Poe also uses symbolism, or using something or someone to represent an idea, to create compelling stories and poems. In "The Raven," a Raven vexes the speaker with its nonsense, but, "Quoth the Raven, 'Nevermore.'...With such name as, 'Nevermore."" (Poe 48, 54). A Raven is typically seen as an omen of death, bad luck, or even evil. The Raven symbolizes the speaker's depression and grief over his lost love, Lenore. Adding on, the word "Nevermore," that repeats throughout the story, is also the Raven's name, for it also represents Lenore will never come back. Usage of the term, "Nevermore" darkens the already depressing mood of the entire poem.

In "The Tell-Tale Heart," when the narrator is describing his fear, he is histrionic as many will say, for he quotes, "One of his eyes bled that of a vulture... Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold... I made up my mind to take the life of the old man and thus rid myself of the eye forever" (Poe 355). Because of the "vulture" looking eye of the old man's, the narrator is frightened to the point of insanity. The eye is the object that causes an internal conflict within the narrator. The narrator is deciding whether to commit his crime to the police or suffer from the beating dead man's heart. When the police arrive because someone hears a deafening scream at night, the narrator soon starts hearing a noise, and soon "find[s] [out] that the noise was not within [his] ears...but the noise steadily increased... It is the beating of [the old man's] hideous heart!" (Poe 359).

The beating of the dead man's heart symbolizes the narrator's guilt for killing the old man. Additionally, the beating heart can also create the overall theme in the story: Guilt will always come back after committing wrongdoings. The adoption of symbolism deepens the meaning behind Poe's pieces of literature.

The implementation of allusion and symbolism throughout "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Raven," further enhances Poe's short stories and poems. Allusions to Greek mythology and Shakespeare amplifies the meaning behind each of his stories and poems. His usage of symbolism reveals the fear and guilt in "The Tell-Tale Heart". Poe's subtle incorporation of Shakespearean literature and talent at ending stories on constant cliffhangers help him construct riveting short stories.

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