Burial Rites

Ravens Symbol Icon

Ravens appear throughout Burial Rites: they caw unexpectedly, land on fences, or fly overhead. According to Agnes, ravens are symbols of death, and they often foreshadow it. Agnes recalls how she once watched a raven move its head in the direction of a farm where a little boy drowned later in the week. Although many people fear ravens because of their association with death, Agnes says that she likes the birds because they are smart, even if they aren’t very nice. Agnes seems to sees something of herself in ravens, as she is likewise stigmatized for her intelligence. As a result, ravens not only represent death, but also people like Agnes who are marginalized because of their difference.

Ravens Quotes in Burial Rites

The Burial Rites quotes below all refer to the symbol of Ravens. 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:
Truth and Liberation Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Back Bay Books edition of Burial Rites published in 2014.
Chapter 2 Quotes

Cruel Birds, ravens, but wise. And creatures should be loved for their wisdom if they cannot be loved for kindness.

Related Characters: Agnes Magnúsdottir (speaker)
Related Symbols: Ravens
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 10 Quotes

Where would I have gone? I knew only the valley of Vatnsdalur; knew where it was scabbed with rock, knew the white-headed mountains and the lake alive with swans, and the wrinkled skins of turf by the river. And the ravens, the constant, circling ravens. But Illugastadir was different. I had no friends. I didn’t understand the landscape. Only the outlying tongues of rock scarred the perfect kiss of sea and sky— there was no one and nothing else. There was nowhere else to go.

Related Characters: Agnes Magnúsdottir (speaker), Natan Ketilsson
Related Symbols: Ravens
Page Number: 252
Explanation and Analysis:
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Ravens Symbol Timeline in Burial Rites

The timeline below shows where the symbol Ravens appears in Burial Rites. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
Women, Violence, and Innocence Theme Icon
Literacy, Language, and the Icelandic Landscape Theme Icon
Names, Superstition, and Christianity Theme Icon
Agnes hears the caws of ravens and thinks that, although they are cruel birds, they are smart. Ravens are supposed to... (full context)
Names, Superstition, and Christianity Theme Icon
Margrét points out a flock of ravens to Tóti and asks if he is a man of tradition. Tóti responds yes, but... (full context)
Women, Violence, and Innocence Theme Icon
...her. Finally Tóti says goodbye, then bows and walks away. Agnes, now alone, watches the ravens. (full context)
Chapter 3
Literacy, Language, and the Icelandic Landscape Theme Icon
Names, Superstition, and Christianity Theme Icon
...Agnes begins to vaguely remember the day Steina is referring to. She remembers seeing three ravens flying in a line—a good omen— but also remembers that one hundred whales washed ashore... (full context)
Names, Superstition, and Christianity Theme Icon
A few ravens land on the stone fence nearby and Margrét chases them away. Tóti takes a breath... (full context)