Grief As A Main Motive in The Raven
The Raven: An analysis of the Five Stages of Grief
“The Raven,” a poem written by Edgar Allan Poe in 1845, when taken literally is about the tortuous journey of a man as he experiences the five stages of grief due to the loss of his love Lenore, but when viewed on a spiritual level represents an internal battle of good vs. evil; the narrator struggles to win the losing battle of retaining his humanity but in the end succumbs to insanity. The narrator is visited by a raven; the raven is significant to understanding the narrator’s mental stability and emotions; the symbol of the raven, loneliness, death, and basically never ending hell, rather than the raven drives the narrator to madness. The raven itself seems to be a fabricated image that serves to give the narrator’s dark side and inner thoughts a tangible image. The narrator is able to remain calm and composed, though it’s just a façade weaved out of desperation, until the raven’s visit which causes him to unravel and ignite an internal battle that will lead to ultimate despair. The narrator’s deepening insanity can be seen through the narrator’s passage through the four main stages of grief and interactions with the symbolic raven.
In more detail, the speaker experiences the first stage of grief, denial, in the beginning of the poem. It can be seen in stanza 4, “And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, Lenore? / This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!” / Merely this, and nothing more. (Line 28-30) The speaker is deep in the denial stage; though Lenore is dead, he is hopeful that it might be her at his door. This is impossible but the narrator cannot see this through the fog of his denial. This is a common emotional and mental side effect of grief. Additionally, the narrator experiences denial when he tries to justify the tapping and rapping on his door, “Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice; / Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore (33-34).” The speaker is desperately trying to prove that the sound is real and not a sign of his madness. The quotes prove that the narrator is going through denial that Lenore is in fact dead. Though this is a normal side effect of grief, the speaker’s insistence and hopefulness that Lenore is not dead suggests the beginning of his descendent into insanity and madness.
Next, the speaker enter the stage of anger. His anger is most prominent in stanzas 14, 15, and 17. The narrators anger has been building up and finally explodes out of him, “Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee / Respite—respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore; / Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”(81-83) The speaker to confront the fact that Lenore is dead and reacts with anger, though not necessarily at the bird itself just due to his grief. The narrator’s anger is also evident when he curses the bird as evil. “Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil–prophet still, if bird or devil! / By that heaven that bends above us–by that God we both adore. (91-92) ” The speaker has decided that the bird is an evil being and is growing increasingly angered and frustrated at its presence. Lastly, the narrator’s anger can be seen as he reacts to the news that he will never achieve internal peace, “ Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting / “Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian 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!” (97-100) The speaker entered a fit of rage and anger after realizing that the Raven is right. The speakers experience through the stage of anger revealed a startling secret, his loneliness. The narrator is very lonely and the raven exploited this causing the speaker to be filled with hysteria. The quotes prove that the raven is merely a figment of his imagination and a tangible representation of his depending insanity. The narrator’s deepest secret, loneliness, is known by the raven and the raven speaks his darkest thoughts.
Furthermore, the narrator experiences the next stage of grief, depression, throughout the poem but can be seen most heavily in stanza 2, “Eagerly I wished the morrow; – vainly I had sought to borrow / From my books surcease of sorrow – sorrow for the lost Lenore.” (Line 9-10)
These lines mark the initial introduction of Lenore and reveals that the narrator is mourning the loss of these mysterious Lenore. Additionally, it can be inferred that the narrator is wracked with grief over his lost love Lenore; He’s not reading for enjoyment but rather as a distraction from his anguish. Moreover, his depression can also be detected in stanza 18, “And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor / Shall be lifted – nevermore! (59-60) The narrator lost the battle and sinks back into a deeper depression than before; He knows that deep down the raven is right and he will never be ‘redeemed.’ These quotes reveal the beginning of the narrator’s downward spiral into insanity and the end of his battle with the Raven that left him emotionally and mentally broken.
Finally, at the end of the poem the narrator enters the last stage of grief, acceptance. The raven accepts that he will never be free from the weight of his grief and that the Raven is right, “And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor / Shall be lifted – nevermore! (59-60) This quote shows depression but also reveals the speakers acceptance of his everlasting suffering. The narrator’s acceptance can be seen in two ways. First, he can finally be accepting the fact that Lenore is dead and is never coming back. Second, the narrator is accepting the loss of his sanity and humanity.
In conclusion, it is clear from these interactions with the symbolic raven and the display of the stages of grief that the narrator is bordering insanity. In fact, Poe does an extraordinary job of utilizing the rhetoric device allegory to allow the story to have two intertwined meanings and the reader to read a hauntingly beautiful poem of a man’s descent into absolute madness. Overall, as the story progressed the raven succeeded in not only shattering the narrators hope and soul but also his sanity.
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