Edgar Allan Poe was highly criticized throughout his life whether it was for his high achievements or his downfalls; he always seemed to be talked about. Poe was born in January 19, 1809; his mother died shortly after being abandoned by his father leaving him and his brothers’ orphans at an early age. Poe was taken by John and Francis Allan. With the help of his foster parents he was later able to attend the University of Virginia where he studied French, Spanish, Italian, and Latin, and had an excellent scholastic record. He soon was not able to pay for tuition and started gambling and drinking.
His foster father would not pay his “debts of honors” therefore; he could no longer stay so he fled to Boston, his birth place. In Boston his writing career began. He first published an anonymous book of poems which he titled Tamerlane and Other Poems the credit was given to a Bostonian. In 1836 he married his cousin Virginia Clemm. His wife suffered from tuberculosis a disease that was killing her slowly. This affected Poe’s writing for all his poems and short stories were of death and hopelessness. During this time Poe continued to write it wasn’t until 1845 that Edgar wrote “The Raven” one of his most successful poems yet.
Edgar Allan Poe’s life had been tough and his work demonstrated his struggle. He always wrote about darkness and mysteries. “The Raven” is a poem of death, despair, and self-loathing that a person endures after a loved one is lost. By the audience obtaining personal background information on Poe it helps understand his technique in his writings. Edgar Allan Poe skillfully uses symbolism in The Raven such as in the raven itself, the chamber, and the bust of Pallas (Goddess of Wisdom) to masterly get his thoughts across without the necessity of writing them.
Poe uses symbolism in the raven itself to give his audience a sense of darkness. A raven is a big dark bird where in some areas they are considered pests. Ravens generally symbolize ill-omen or death. Roger Asselineau stated that, “The world of Poe’s tales is a nightmarish universe. ” Using any other bird to utter the word “nevermore” would have not given the poem the same effect. Poe mentioned himself that he thought of using a parrot instead of a raven, yes they are both animals, but the raven is more suitable for the mood of the poem since ravens are associated with death and generally a parrot is thought of only a smart bird.
The raven is simply just an animal yet to the student, the narrator, he is seen as an intellectual adviser. The narrator is referred to as the student because he seeks knowledge through the raven. Poe successfully picked the raven which gave the poem its feeling of darkness and gloom. The raven was the perfect selection because a human can use reason to answer the questions asked by the student appropriately, therefore throwing the poem off. The student feared the raven he saw him as an evil bird. At length he calls the raven “wretch,” “thing of evil,” “fiend,” and other names, suspects him of diabolical prophetic powers, and shrieks at him to get out” (Carlson,1). The student called him a prophet, which is a person regarded as an inspired teacher or an individual who is claimed to have been contacted by the supernatural. The student says “Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutorian Shore! ” (Poe,600). The Plutorian was known for darkness and Pluto was the Greek god of the dead and ruler of the underworld.
The mentioning of this creates a dark setting revolving that of the raven. Despite the fact that the raven perhaps just knows the word nevermore as a learned behavior the student sees as it as much more than that. This also says a lot about the level of sanity of the student. “A more rigorous reading suggests that the raven’s “Nevermore” does not provide even the ostensible answer the speaker reads into it” (Freedman, 1). With this quote it is clear that the level of sanity of the student is suffering from the loss of his lover Lenore.
The loss of his lover is what drives the student to see the raven as a prophet something far more than what he really is. The bust of Pallas is also a symbol in the poem “The Raven”. Pallas is Athena, Greek goddess of wisdom. “But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door” (Poe, 599). There was a statue of Athena right outside the student’s door. It is not merely a coincidence that Poe decides to position the raven perched upon the bust of Pallas a statue that represents wisdom.
This helps signify the importance of the raven on this poem and that of the statue. This statue brings upon a sense of knowledge; so as the raven positions himself on it, it can be understood as to why the student would consider the bird to be far more than just an animal. This statue being located right in front of his house could symbolize the wisdom and answers the student desperately needs. Despite the fact that the narrator, the student, knew that the raven was speaking out of repetition he had the belief, or perhaps even hope that the raven knew what he was saying and was answering with comprehension.
Seen the raven on the bust of Pallas gives the narrator a feeling of anguish because when he asks about his long lost love Lenore and the raven utters the word “nevermore” he feels that he is speaking wisely, as a result making him that far more depressed. His chamber can also be used to symbolize the loneliness he lived in after the loss of his lover Lenore. The narrator’s home is not referred to as a home or a loving nest but that of a chamber. A chamber gives a sense of entrapment and captivity. It is not hard to understand why the narrator would feel lonely, trapped, and depressed after losing his Lenore.
The setting can also help depict the sorrow of the student it was dreary December midnight. December usually means the end of the year which in this case it can be used as a symbol of a change of something to come. Midnight can be tied to darkness. Bad things occur in the dark. The student’s life itself seems dark without his lost Lenore. As a result, he locks himself in his chamber where he can drown in his sorrows. The student says “Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning” as he realized it was not Lenore at the door (Poe, 508).
The narrator indulges torture when asking about his lover Lenore. Perhaps torturing himself with her memory is all that he has left. This is why the student spends most of his time in his chamber.
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A Brucooli Clark Layman Book. Edited by Bobby Ellen Kimble, Pennsylvania State University, Ogontz Campus and William E. Grant, Bowling Green State University. The Gale Group, 1988. Pp. 303-322. Freedman, William. Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Raven. ” Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe. Ed. Thomas Ollive Mabbott. Vol. 1: Poems. Cambridge: The Belknap P of Harvard UP, 1969. 364-69. Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Raven. ” Portable Literature Reading Reacting Writing. By Laurie G. Kirszner and Stephen R. Mandell. Eighth ed. Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2007. 598-600. Print.