The Raven

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The Raven Symbol Icon

Ravens are commonly viewed as symbols for evil, death, and supernatural forces. The narrator comes to see the Raven, which visits when the narrator is in deepest mourning over the death of his beloved Lenore, in exactly these terms: as a kind of supernatural emissary that has come to crush his hopes of ever being reunited with Lenore in heaven. The narrator sees the Raven not just as symbolizing death, but as symbolizing a specific kind of death: a death without heaven, a death that is simply the end.

All of that said, what the Raven symbolizes in the poem is not exactly the same as what it symbolizes to the narrator. First, a reading of the poem in which the narrator actually falls asleep and then dreams the rest of the events shifts the meaning of the Raven from a supernatural messenger about death to an embodiment of the grief-stricken narrator’s own doubts and fears about what happens after death. Further, regardless of whether the narrator is awake or asleep, it is possible to interpret the Raven as symbolizing not a meaningless death but rather irrationality and unknowability. After all, the Raven never actually says anything other than “nevermore,” and it never says that word except in response to a question from the narrator. The Raven’s “nevermore” never quite makes actual sense, but the narrator interprets it to be a message of death without an afterlife. In this view, the Raven symbolizes the unknowable mystery that the narrator (and human beings more generally) frantically try to use their reason to understand because the unknowable (like what happens after death) is scary. But reason fails, just as the narrator does, in figuring out the unknowable. The Raven perching forevermore on the bust of Pallas Athena, goddess of wisdom and reason, indicates the triumph of the irrational and unknowable over any rational attempt to figure it out.

The Raven Quotes in The Raven

The The Raven quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Raven. 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

“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.


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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.

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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