Last Updated 05 Jan 2023

An Examination of the Symbolism and Theme in the Poem, The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe

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Picture being thrown into a cave of darkness where there is little light. There is a door, but fearful of opening it, you hesitate, and the only words heard are those in your head. You're going crazy and you're so paranoid that you think you would be better off in a straight jacket, or dead. The cave isn't there, either, or is it? Who's there? Who can help you? This type of constant delusion and progressively frightening imagery comes to life through symbolism and theme in The Raven written by Edgar Allen Poe.

Using dark, figurative language, Poe asserts rhythm through context in the mood he is trying to portray with his paranoid obsession with loss. The character in this poem is directly affected by the fact that he cannot get over a haunting woman named Lenore who appears to him metaphorically, as a raven. In fact, everything that appears to him represents his compulsion for Lenore, unable to look beyond the past in this tale of ominous love and loss.

Poe uses phrases like "bleak December” and “dying ember" (Poe, 1903) near the beginning of the poem, and maintains that sense of sadness and suspense throughout the entire piece. These words and the organization that Poe uses in this internal poem are in order to guide the reader through the story of a man dealing with the loss of someone he loved that is now haunting him in the form of an imaginary talking raven.

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Personification plays a large role with the pacing and descriptors used by the author. "And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain, Thrilled me-filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before." Describing the curtains as "sad" and "uncertain" are definitive ways of causing emotions from the sounds and senses the reader experiences.

When first introduced to the poem, the author begins to describe a man reading on his way to sleep, when there is a tapping at the door. From a first person point of view he describes himself as being very tired, so when the tapping occurs he is not eager to investigate the sound. After awhile, the tapping continues, and this foreshadows the idea that the main character in the story is slowly going mad. Asking "Who's there?" the primary character becomes curious and scared simultaneously.

The main character calls out "Lenore" quietly as if the tapping were someone he once knew, coming back to torture him by mysteriously being omniscient with repeated sounds. This could also be part of a dream or all in his head, since in the beginning; he was dozing off to sleep. Once opening the door, the man finds nothing and is determined to find the reason behind the incessant tapping. Finally, the man opens his shutters to reveal a raven that perches upon his door. The raven gives the man looks that scare him into thinking it is looking into his soul. "The fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core," is a metaphor for the feelings that this bird creates inside of him. It is not as if the man is saying that he is literally being burned, but he is figuratively feeling out of control, powerless, and threatened by the raven's presence.

When the man tries to speak to the raven, the raven can only speak "Nevermore." The man tries to analyze the raven so much that he smites it. Even when he tries to get away from thinking of Lenore, the man implies that he misses where she used to sit and the imprint she used to make in his chair: "On the cushion's velvet lining that the lamplight gloated o'er, But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o'er She shall press, ah, nevermore!"

Interestingly enough, the entire story is physically centered on a talking raven. The raven's significance shines through in its simplicity, and yet, still manages to drive the man insane. In the first instance, the tapping (from the raven's beak) is an indicator of the mood of madness the man is experiencing, while the second instance is the fact that the raven can only say "nevermore." With so many questions, this drives the character even crazier as he tries to figure out who the raven is and why it cannot speak more than one word. It is puzzling as to why the man is not more baffled at the fact that a bird can speak at all, but it just further implies the purpose of the raven, and not necessarily that the raven is actually there.

It could be argued that this poem is more literal and practical than it is figurative and metaphorically symbolized. After all, birds have been known to talk (i.e. parrots, macaws), and people have been known to obsess over someone they lost, and let that make them dwell to the point of insanity. However, the colors that Poe describes in certain instances of the poem are not coincidence. There are very few colors mentioned in this poem, but there is notion of purple or violet in the "rustling curtains." He describes the curtains moving as filling him "...with fantastic terrors never felt before." This represents the excitement that the man feels in hearing and seeing his curtains move in accompaniment with the tapping; in hopes it is a sign his lost "angel," Lenore. Violet is also mentioned in the cushion in which Lenore used to sit on in the man's chair.

In the verse "But whose velvet violet lining..." when describing the imprint that Lenore will never be able to make again, Poe uses purple as a way to continue to embellish on Lenore's "royal" presence. Purple can also signify extravagance, mystery, and magic, all of which is present in this poem. It could also be argued that this is not a hidden "love and lost" story, but just a sad and creepy one about a man being driven to insanity from his own thoughts and a raven. However, that was not Poe's intention here.

In lines 94-95, Poe writes of the character describing Lenore as "radiant," and "sainted," as if to say that Lenore is not a real human being at all anymore, but a spirit or presence that he longs for and cannot escape from forgetting to love. In earlier implications (for instance the "chair" reference) Lenore was someone the man remembers fondly and readers are encapsulated by the constant mention of Lenore, who once was, and now is "nevermore."

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An Examination of the Symbolism and Theme in the Poem, The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe. (2023, Jan 05). Retrieved from https://phdessay.com/an-examination-of-the-symbolism-and-theme-in-the-poem-the-raven-by-edgar-allan-poe/

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