The Raven, by E.A. Poe, is a poem about sadness and loss. The narrator attempts to escape from melancholy and human mortality, trying to slip away into a kind of forgetfulness. Three main supporting elements of this poem are the Romantic Characteristics taken from Romanticism (a movement in the arts that glorified nature, idealized the past, and celebrated human experiences). Symbolism (use in literature of objects or events to represent something other than themselves, frequently abstract ideas or concepts). Finally the mood/atmosphere (established though description of setting and the overall impression of the situation).
Romantic Characteristics: The Raven consists of three Romantic Characteristics; imagination over reason, the accent of mystery and use of the supernatural. Poe uses imagination over reason to portray the raven as an evil being. It should be known that the raven is the Devil or one of the Devil’s messengers sent to torture the man for the rest of his life by telling him that he will “nevermore” see his Lenore again. (“This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word ‘Lenore!’–” ). It should also be recognized that the raven is made out as a type of prophet who knows all past and present of his life and that it can control his future in the after life. Use of the accent on mystery makes the Raven out as a prophet of the man’s future to come in his after life not knowing if his after life is in Heaven, the house of Angels or Hell, the lair of demons. The reader is never able to specify if the Raven is a feathered creature of knowledge or just a normal bird. When it echoes “nevermore” repeatedly through each stanza, it characterizes the Raven as a Devil to torment the man but at the same time it may have learned its only stock and store from some unhappy master owned previously. The next Romantic Characteristic is the use of the supernatural. When the Raven is looked at as the Devil, it is obvious that its only purpose is to make the narrators life a chaotic living Hell. The Raven shows characteristics of the dead Lenore, when its essence resembled that of his lost love. (“The air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer.”)
Symbolism: Poe uses several symbols to embrace its various meanings at a higher level. The most obvious symbol is visibly the raven itself which signifies the narrator’s “Mournful and never-ending remembrance.” It symbolizes that Lenore is dead and he can do nothing to change her death. When it was decided to use a refrain that repeated the word “nevermore,” Poe found that it would be more effective if he used a non-reasoning creature to utter the word. It is important that the answers to the questions are already known so as to illustrate the self-torture to which the narrator exposes himself. Another evident symbol is the bust of Pallas (goddess of wisdom) in which the raven had perched. (“Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door–“). This leads the narrator to believe that the raven spoke from wisdom and was not just repeating its only “stock and store.” A less apparent symbol may possibly be the use of “midnight” in the first verse and “December” in the second verse. Both midnight and December symbolize the end of something as well as the anticipation of something new. The midnight in December may accurately be New Year’s eve, a date most of us connect with change. The chamber in which the narrator is positioned is used to indicate the loneliness of the man and the sorrow he feels for the loss of Lenore. The room is lavishly furnished and reminds the narrator of his lost love, which helps to create an effect of beauty in the poem. the tempest outside is used to signify further the isolation of this man and to show a sharp contrast between the calmness in the chamber and the stormy night.
Mood/Atmosphere: “Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing; Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;”
Of all melancholy topics, the most universally understood is death. It is believed that the perishing of an attractive woman was the most poetical use of death because it closely allies itself with elegance and Poe considered sadness to be the highest manifestation of beauty. The description of the setting in the opening two stanzas of the poem depict that of a dismal nature. The tone proves to be forlorn with the help of phrases like “midnight dreary”, “weak and weary”, “bleak December”, and “sorrow for the lost Lenore.” Furthering the dismal atmosphere is the use of the raven being especially suitable because they are birds of an ill-omen. The narrator wants to erase the ghastly spirit, but every time he looks at the bust of Pallas, the two staring eyes of the raven remind him of his pain. The rational order of the world of the narrator has been disrupted by the appearance of the bird. The raven is a fate that cannot be escaped, no matter how much wisdom, or reason, or sanity one may attempt to apply. The man’s soul is shattered and after his insight into the madness of his world, it “Shall be lifted – nevermore.”
The Romantic Characteristics, symbolism and the atmosphere of “The Raven” captures the importance of what is emphasized in Poe’s favorite theme: the untimely death of a beautiful woman. In “The Raven”, Poe intended to represent a very painful condition of mind, as of an imagination that was likely to tumble over into insanity or an abyss of melancholy, from the perpetuity of one uniform emotion. Through the poem, Poe makes his personal, introverted hell unusually attractive to all, and as a result, “The Raven” is more well known than any of his other poems. Moreover, the Romantic period considers Poe one of the founders of Romantic writing.