Symbolism in The Raven

July 12, 2019 by Essay Writer

In “The Raven,” Edgar Allan Poe demonstrates his mastery of symbolism and repetition. He uses these devices to gradually build anticipation, climaxing at the third stanza from the end with the speaker entreating the bird whether there is word from the after world of his lost love, Lenore. While the bird’s repetition of the word “Nevermore” is objectively nonsensical, the speaker gives the utterance context and allows the word to agonize himself. Poe’s use of symbolism in The Raven gives the poem a needed air of drama. The ambiguity of the chosen symbols combines the dramatic feel with a sense of the ordinary to create the desired effect on the reader. The most obvious symbol in the poem is the raven itself. Poe decided to use a raven because it fulfilled his need for a nonsensical creature to repeat the ominous word and could also stand for the speaker as an omen of death (Poe). The raven is also an ordinary bird and adds to the overall mundane back story of this psychological otherworldly tale. A key component in The Raven is this face-value approach. The answers to all the questions posed by the speaker are already known; therefore, his continued questioning of the non-reasoning raven serves to illustrate the self-torture to which the narrator exposes himself. This way of interpreting signs that do not bear a real meaning, is “one of the most profound impulses of human nature” (Quinn 441). Another symbol is the bust of Pallas. Conjectures have been made by many concerning the reasoning behind having the raven perch on the goddess of wisdom. Many feel the connection between bird and Pallas would lead the narrator to believe that the raven speaks from wisdom, and is not just repeating its only “stock and store.” Some feel it is to signify the scholarship of the narrator. According to Poe, he chose to use the bust of Pallas simply because of the “sonorousness of the word, Pallas, itself” (Poe). Because of the popularity of gothic architecture during the set period of this piece, the bust of a goddess is also completely ordinary. There is no otherworldly feel attached to it other than what is in the speakers mind. The use of the words “Midnight” and “December” symbolize an ending and a time of transition. The midnight in December, could easily be New Year’s eve, a date commonly associated with change. This view is held by Viktor Rydberg, who translated The Raven into Swedish. He uses the phrase “årets sista natt var inne,”(“The last night of the year had arrived”) (Silverman 241). Midnight in December does not foretell the future in any way – it merely describes time and, perhaps, weather – yet in Poe’s hands even a simple description is rife with symbolism. The chamber in which the narrator is positioned signifies the loneliness of the speaker and the sorrow he feels for the loss of Lenore. The room is ordinary yet richly furnished, a reminder of his lost love. This creates the countering undercurrent of beauty in the poem as the companion of death. There is nothing extraordinary about a furnished room but because it is furnished by the dead Lenore it becomes an echo of the dead (Quinn 408). Similarly, the tempest outside is nothing more than an ordinary weather occurrence but takes on great meaning in the context of this poem (Silverman 290).Edgar Allan Poe’s companion piece to The Raven, The Philosophy of Composition, highlights the creation of The Raven. Although it is doubtful that Poe composed his poetry exactly in this strategic, unemotional way, the essay does provide readers with a glimpse into the author’s mind during the poem’s composition. Poe explains that he approached his work on The Raven more like a mathematical problem than a work of writing. Using this methodology, Poe builds tension stanza by stanza to impact the reader at an optimal level, only to reveal finally that there is no meaning in the raven’s “nevermore”. The dark symbolism in The Raven is powerful because it is so ordinary. A raven, a statue of a goddess, a storm and a furnished room do not by themselves exude negativity; a combination of Poe’s poetic skill and the speaker’s (and reader’s) impressionable nature is what gives these simple components such power.Works CitedPoe, Edgar Allan. “The Philosophy of Composition”Silverman, Kenneth. Edgar A. Poe, Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1992.Quinn, Arthur Hobson. Edgar Allan Poe, A Critical Biography. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1998 (second printing).

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