Analysis of Symbolism in Edgar Allen Poe’s Poem The Raven

April 27, 2022 by Essay Writer

Throughout Edgar Allen Poe’s poem “The Raven” there are a variety of elements used as symbols. One of them being symbols of depression. To convey a deeper significance, many writers often use symbolism. They use symbols to communicate a specific thought or feeling into their work. In his works, Edgar Allan Poe often uses this literary device. In his poems and in his short stories, signs and symbols are seen many times.

Many symbols are evident in Poe’s work, ‘The Raven’. This specific poem recounts, one man’s evening at home as he mourns the loss of his beloved and is visited by a mysterious raven. Because Poe’s works are typically mysterious, his use of symbols are often expressed in a dark and twisted way. Here Poe uses many types of symbols manifested in his story all leading back to one thing, depression.

Depression is often used in literary works as a theme to demonstrate profound emotional feelings and to bring out somebody’s sorrow from within. Depression is far from beautiful and beautiful but it creates real emotions within literature. In the Oxford English Dictionary, the term ‘depression’ is defined as ‘ The action of depressing, or condition of being depressed.” To explain further Depression is a state of low mood and aversion to activity that can affect a person’s thoughts, behavior, feelings, and sense of well-being. In ‘The Raven’ Edgar Allan Poe uses depression to demonstrate his mastery of symbolism and repetition. From start to finish Poe uses this to create pure raw emotion and illustrates it through writing.

The first symbol used in the story that describes the theme of depression is none other than the beloved Lenore. The narrator gives no description of Lenore. We do not know what she looks like or what exactly is the relationship between Lenore and the narrator. All we know is that the narrator really misses her. All throughout the poem references leading all reflecting the narrator’s lost love. A clear indication of this theme being used is: ‘From my books surcease of sorrow-sorrow for the lost Lenore-For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore-Nameless here for evermore'(Poe 10-12). In this scene, the narrator is left alone to mourn and uses his books as a way to keep himself distracted. This implies that the narrator is so infatuated with the loss of Lenore that the reader can already tell that his mind is not in the right mind. Lenore could also be seen as symbol for the narrators sanity and without her the man wil be on the verge of going insane.

The most obvious symbol used over and over again in ‘The Raven” is the raven itself. The narrator trying to keep control over himself leading to the arrival of the raven and its presence reveals emotional suffering and loneliness. The bird’s darkness symbolizes death; hence, death becomes a constant reminder to the narrator. The raven comes in, it’s black feathers shining, and appears to be smiling as he watches the speaker intently: ‘Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling, by the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore… Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore'(Poe 42-45).

The narrator seems to feel, at the beginning, that the raven was sent from the Underworld. This symbolism indicating that the raven is a mysterious creature which has come to the speaker as a messenger of death. With the company of the raven, the narrator is reminded of his current loneliness along with his lonely future that awaits him. The raven, then, serves as the primary source of the narrator’s depression and becomes the symbol on which this whole theme is built on.

Another symbol is the bust of Pallas, the head and torso of the wisest goddess. The raven decided to perch on the goddess of knowledge for several reasons. It would lead the man to believe that the raven spoke from wisdom, and was not just repeating its only line, ‘Nevermore’. It could also signify the knowledge of the man. Having the statue in his study would lead the readers to think this man was very wise or intelligent. Signifying that the narrator wasn’t already crazy to begin with. You notice the narrator starting to believe in this when: ‘And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting.

On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door’ (Poe 102-103). How this ties back to the theme of depression is because with the raven still staying still on top of the bust of Pallas he begins to believe if this raven is more than just a bird. All the emotions the man has been feeling and thoughts put into mind are not just a thought, but becoming real for the narrator.

Another symbol is the setting in which the story takes place. The chamber is used to signify the loneliness of the man, and the sorrow he feels for the loss of Lenore. The word ‘chamber’ itself implies a cold, rigid feel, like the narrator has shut himself away from everything in order to be alone to brood and torture himself. The room is luxuriously furnished, and reminds the narrator of his lost love.

The storm is used to even more signify the isolation of the man, to show sharp contrast between the calmness in the chamber and the stormy night. This is portrayed when: ‘And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain Thrilled me-filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before’ (Poe 13-14). At this point the man’s imagination is probably running wild. The narrator is terrified of being alone in the chamber, where he goes to find ease is the place where he fears most. This fear of being alone, alone forever, brings the man back to one thing and that is the love of his beloved Lenore. With the thought constantly on his mind about his lost love it’s no wonder this man is depressed.

Another symbol used to incorporate the theme of depression is the usage of darkness. In the very first stanza of the poem: ‘Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary…'(Poe 1). This sets the mood for the rest of the story giving an indication that it will be a very dark and treacherous night. With the ‘Midnight’ traditionaly referred to as the witching hour and the darkest part of night. It is no accident that Poe chooses this as the time for the time of the story to take place. When thinking of darkness the color that comes to mind is none other than black. Black carries with it very clear implications of death, mourning, and sorrow. What coincidence that the raven is also the color black, which reflects all of death, mourning, and sorrow. The usage of darkness is used to convey a sense of emotional turmoil and hopelessness, very much like the theme of this poem.

The last and final symbol that portrays the theme of depression is the time of year in which this poem took place, December. When writing the very famous poem ‘The Raven’, Edgar Allan Poe chose a word with a deeper meaning behind it and that also includes the time of year. The time in which ‘The Raven’ takes place is when the narrator says: ‘Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December; And each separate dying ember’ (Poe 6-7).

This gives a stress on time of year and the weather. At the beginning of the poem, the speaker mentions the time of day, but Poe uses the fact that the fire is dying out to emphasize how long the speaker has been sitting pondering over the past. The mention of December also is a reflection to how nothing lives in the winter. December is an indication of coldness, meaning that December symbolizes death itself.

Repetition, symbolism, and imagery are three very strong literary devices that make ‘The Raven’ more emotional in the eyes of a reader. By adding symbolism, imagery, and repetition the reader can feel the inner feelings of the character to a higher degree. Poe’s poem, ‘The Raven’ would not be the same if he had chosen to take out the forms of symbolism. The poem would have less meaning if it took place at noon or on a sunny summer afternoon. Poe adds the elements needed to keep the reader intrigued. Reading the poem can give better understanding to grief and pain. ‘The Raven’ by Edgar Allan Poe was a true masterpiece that showed many symbols about depression.


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