In Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven,” it seems that the raven’s only purpose is to repeatedly say “Nevermore” but there is a deeper purpose for the raven. In “The Raven and the Nightingale” David Hirsch argues that the raven is used metaphorically to suggest “the soul entrapped in the body”. He also suggests that the raven symbolically represents the “carnal heart”. William Freedman has a different take on it and makes several points in “Poe’s Raven” that the raven is a paradox for the speaker’s lost love. However further analyzing of the poem shows that Poe uses the raven as a symbol of the unknown and the speaker’ loss.
The theme of “The Raven” according to Poe is the “bereaved lover”, but Hirsch builds on that by saying the bigger picture is about ” the wandering of the human soul in search of eternal salvation” (Hirsch). In Hirsch’s analysis, he believes the Raven is used metaphorically to add to the theme of the wandering soul (Hirsch). The speaker is searching for answers in a bird, showing how desperate he is to find them.
The raven has the ability to speak but does not indulge any information. The raven is, figuratively speaking, a bird trapped in a cage. This translates to the raven metaphorically being a soul entrapped in the body. But there is a different purpose for the use of the raven that is better supported through the text. A raven is a bird that eats carrion and is seen as a bad omen, adding to its purpose by showing that it is a carrier of dead souls.
The speaker is desperately trying to figure out what the Raven means in saying nevermore. He believes that as a carrier of dead souls, the Raven is helping Lenore communicate with him. The speaker wants to know if he will be able to hold Lenore again but the raven only croaks “Nevermore” (Poe line 93). The speaker searches for answers to ease his pain. In finding none, he becomes distraught, and the raven becomes a symbol of the unknown.
The uncertainty of what has happened to his Lenore is making his suffering worse. The speaker expects to find out whether his Lenore will come back from the raven. The raven is “perched upon a bust of Pallas” (Poe line 41). This is an allusion to the goddess of wisdom. The speaker believes that the raven has knowledge of Lenore. Rather than getting an answer for his questions, the raven’s nevermore is simply a reply.
This absence of knowledge is creating more hurt for the speaker, than if the raven had never shown up. Ravens are associated with death and darkness, and in this case it is reminding the speaker of his loss. The speaker likened Lenore to a “rare and radiant maiden” (Poe line 95). She was the light in his life. Now that she has passed, all he sees when he opens the door is “darkness there, and nothing more” (Poe line 24). After the speaker realizes the raven has no valuable information for him he views him as a devil. He wants him to leave immediately because the raven reminds him of the darkness in his life. This is shown when the speaker says “Take thy beak from out my heart” (Poe line 101).
The raven isn’t physically putting his beak in the man’s heart, this is a metaphor. The bird brings back memories of Lenore which hurts the speaker. He says “oh quaff the kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore” (Poe line 83). The speaker is giving up on the thought of ever seeing his love again, William Freedman makes the point that Lenore’s name becomes a paradox.
He sees the raven’s purpose as lending itself to the paradox. It shows that Lenore’s absence is what affects the speaker (Freedman). The speaker says “Nameless here for evermore” when he thinks of Lenore, but ironically says her name many times after this (Poe line 12). He tries to forget her but the raven’s presence makes it difficult for him. When the speaker whispers her name out into the darkness, “an echo murmured back the word “Lenore!”‘ (Poe line 29).
This response echoes from himself. His mind cannot forget her and this was brought upon him by the raven’s arrival. The raven acts as the most important symbol in the book. It has many interpretations but viewing the raven as a symbol for the unknown and for the loss of love proves the most accurate. Reading the short story with this in mind gives it an entirely different meaning.