The Raven

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The narrator Character Analysis

Poe’s unnamed narrator is a scholar who is mourning the death of his beloved, Lenore. He is alone in his house on a cold December midnight, trying to distract himself from his thoughts of her by reading old books. The narrator is a scholar, learned and reasonable, yet his logic and knowledge do not much help him to recover from the impact of Lenore’s death or to escape his desperate hope to see her again. His desperation leads him to emotional extremes, from depression to near euphoria and finally to depression once the Raven pronounces that he and Lenore will be apart forever. It is never made clear whether a supernatural Raven actually visits him and drives him to an ultimate despair, or whether his own obsessive doubts lead him to imagine the Raven, but in either case the Raven overthrows the narrator’s rational mind.

The narrator Quotes in The Raven

The The Raven quotes below are all either spoken by The narrator or refer to The narrator. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Death and the Afterlife Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Signet Classics edition of The Raven published in 2008.
The Raven Quotes

Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore…

Related Characters: The narrator (speaker), Lenore
Page Number: 92
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator is studying “quaint,” “curious” and “forgotten” books in an effort to forget his misery over losing Lenore. Given that the narrator is a man of letters, that he would turn to old books for relief from his emotions might not come as a surprise. But the poem’s supernatural elements leave open the possibility that these books may be more than they seem. Though it’s never mentioned explicitly, the narrator might be searching their pages for some way to circumvent the finality of death and bring his beloved back to life. Despite the learned narrator’s rational bent, losing Lenore may have prompted him to explore magical means for dealing with grief. Either way, his tendency to delve into ancient literature in the face of his grief shows how focused he is on the past, whether in his scholarship or in his memories of his beloved.

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And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”

Related Characters: The narrator (speaker), Lenore
Page Number: 93
Explanation and Analysis:

As the narrator stands searching for the cause of the knock on his door, he whispers “Lenore” into the darkness, and receives only an echo back in return. Knowing full well that Lenore has passed away, he nevertheless allows himself to imagine that, should he speak her name, through some miracle he might receive a response. In saying “Lenore” out loud, the narrator continues to erode his earlier commitment to thinking rationally about the knocks at his door. The response he does receive is technically that of his own voice, sent back to him by natural means. Though this brief experiment to check if Lenore is actually there has failed, the brief exchange is not enough to quell his curiosity, as he returns to his chamber with his soul “burning.”

Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!

Related Characters: The narrator (speaker), The Raven
Related Symbols: “Night’s Plutonian shore”
Page Number: 94
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator is amused upon first encountering the Raven, and speaks to it candidly before he realizes it has the ability to respond. He treats it like a distinguished guest, and asks it for its name on the “Night’s Plutonian shore” — Plutonian refers to Pluto, the Roman god of the underworld—jokingly accusing the bird of having emerged from hell or the world of the dead. Amusement fuels this question, but the narrator’s subsequent interactions with the Raven stem from anxiety and desperation. By the close of the poem, the narrator shouts at the bird to return to the “Night’s Plutonian shore,” having realized that his nightmarish jest has actually come to pass.

“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store”…

Related Characters: The narrator (speaker), The Raven
Related Symbols: The Raven
Page Number: 95
Explanation and Analysis:

While interacting with the Raven for the first time, the narrator does a fair bit of muttering to himself as though the bird cannot hear. When, to his surprise, he hears the bird replying “Nevermore” to his side comments, he tries to interpret the anomaly with reason. Here, he presumes that “Nevermore” is something the bird might have picked up from an especially pessimistic former master, and not, as he comes to assume later, a fatalistic pronouncement signaling the end of his hopes and dreams to be reunited with his dearest Lenore. This exchange is the last of the narrator’s efforts to exercise reason in his dealings with the bird; in all subsequent interactions, he perceives the bird’s comments as legitimate responses to his frantic questions, rather than stray, accidental utterances picked up from previous travels.

Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy…

Related Characters: The narrator (speaker), The Raven
Related Symbols: The Raven
Page Number: 96
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator sits down in a velvet chair and resolves to study the bird and explain to himself its mysterious ability to speak, and the meaning of its repeated word. The etymology of “fancy” is linked to the word “fantasy,” and means both “a mental image” and “to believe without being absolutely sure or certain,” to fantasize. Poe’s use of “fancy” helps to blur the line between what is reality and what is the product of the narrator’s imagination, implying that what the narrator is seeing in the Raven might be entirely a result of his subconscious playing tricks on him while he grieves for Lenore.

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor…

Related Characters: The narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 96
Explanation and Analysis:

Suddenly, the narrator observes that the air has grown heavy, and smells perfume emanating from an invisible source. He describes the presence of seraphim, or angels, whom, he cries out, have been sent by God to help him overcome the burden of his grief. By prefacing this observation with “methought,” Poe emphasizes that the change in the environment is taking place in the narrator’s perceptions, but not necessarily in real life as well; they are, perhaps, a symptom of madness. In this moment, the narrator reaches a state of near-euphoria, having nearly convinced himself that the angels will grant him some relief from misery.

“Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”

Related Characters: The narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 96
Explanation and Analysis:

In Homer’s Odyssey, “nepenthe” is a drug that erases memories. The narrator, citing Homer, evokes the opening scene in which he is poring over “forgotten” lore, potentially in search of some ancient cure for his devastation. While here he desires to simply ingest something and wipe Lenore from his memory, this wish is at odds with his other desire to see Lenore again, whether in some supernatural form on earth or in the afterlife. Ultimately, the narrator can neither forget Lenore nor accept that he and she will never cross paths again.

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door…

Related Characters: The narrator (speaker), The Raven (speaker)
Related Symbols: Pallas, The Raven
Page Number: 98
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator has screamed at the bird to leave, but to no avail: the Raven sits and sits upon the bust of Pallas, continuing to haunt the narrator. In lingering on the bust, the Raven indicates the triumph of dark supernatural forces over those of cool, calm, and collected rationality. As the poem is told as a recollection, the last scene continues until the present day, meaning that the Raven “still is sitting” then, now, and potentially forever. Like the narrator’s memories of Lenore, the Raven refuses to leave the plagued narrator’s mind, causing him misery until the bitter end.

And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted—nevermore!

Related Characters: The narrator (speaker), The Raven
Related Symbols: The Raven
Page Number: 98
Explanation and Analysis:

With the Raven and thoughts of Lenore looming over him for time immemorial, the narrator imagines that his soul will never be lifted, that he will never be cheerful, again. The narrator describes his soul as emerging from the shadow of the bird, as though the two entities had been made one by his inability to escape from the bird’s nefarious influence. Tightening the relationship between man and bird is the fact that “Nevermore,” the Raven’s refrain, has now made its way into the narrator’s vocabulary. Having internalized the Raven’s refusal of all his hopes, the narrator now inflicts the word on himself, closing the poem on an appropriately dark and pessimistic note.

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The narrator Character Timeline in The Raven

The timeline below shows where the character The narrator appears in The Raven. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Raven
Death and the Afterlife Theme Icon
Memory and Loss Theme Icon
The Supernatural and the Subconscious Theme Icon
Rationality and Irrationality Theme Icon
Ancient Influences Theme Icon
On a cold night, at midnight, the narrator is sitting by himself, “weak and weary,” reading an old book full of “forgotten lore”... (full context)
Death and the Afterlife Theme Icon
Memory and Loss Theme Icon
The narrator then explains that he remembers that all this happened back in December. As the fire... (full context)
Death and the Afterlife Theme Icon
The Supernatural and the Subconscious Theme Icon
Rationality and Irrationality Theme Icon
When the curtains rustle, the narrator is suddenly frightened. Once again he tells himself that it’s merely a visitor, and “nothing... (full context)
Death and the Afterlife Theme Icon
Memory and Loss Theme Icon
The Supernatural and the Subconscious Theme Icon
Rationality and Irrationality Theme Icon
The narrator opens the door, only to find that nobody is there. He stands at the entrance... (full context)
Memory and Loss Theme Icon
The Supernatural and the Subconscious Theme Icon
Rationality and Irrationality Theme Icon
Ancient Influences Theme Icon
Suddenly, the narrator hears a knocking at his window, and he opens it. The Raven flies in, perching... (full context)
Death and the Afterlife Theme Icon
Memory and Loss Theme Icon
The Supernatural and the Subconscious Theme Icon
Rationality and Irrationality Theme Icon
Ancient Influences Theme Icon
The narrator then perceives that the air has become “denser, perfumed from an unseen censer,” and says... (full context)
Death and the Afterlife Theme Icon
Memory and Loss Theme Icon
The Supernatural and the Subconscious Theme Icon
Rationality and Irrationality Theme Icon
Ancient Influences Theme Icon
Growing more anxious, the narrator asks the Raven if there is “balm in Gilead” —if heaven will give him some... (full context)