Themes in The Raven
Death: “The Raven” explores death in its physical, supernatural, and metaphorical manifestations. The narrator mourns the physical death of his beloved, Lenore. He talks about other friends who have died, and he contemplates his own death. The Raven symbolically represents the personification of death itself and serves as a reminder of what the narrator has lost and his impending fate. The entire poem explores the metaphorical death of hope and the descent into melancholy that this death causes.
Masochism: “The Raven” explores the human tendency towards self-torture and self-destruction. The narrator continues to ask the Raven questions he knows the bird will answer negatively so that he can dive deeper into his sadness and mournful longing.
Supernatural: The poem asks whether supernatural things, such as the Raven, cause fear or fear itself gives power to supernatural things. For this reason, the poem presents a character whose imagination overpowers his reason and imbues the bird with menacing power.
Disturbed by the way the Raven appears to have intentionally disagreed with him, the narrator rationalizes the repetition of the ominous word “Nevermore”: He imagines that the Raven’s master, having suffered unendurable disasters, taught the bird to utter the single word most expressive of the owner’s sense of hopelessness.
Notice how Poe creates a distinct transition here in both the structure of the poem and the way the narrator regards the Raven. After attempting to contemplate his visitor objectively, the narrator connects the Raven’s refrain of “Nevermore” with his personal grief. The narrator begins to ask increasingly painful questions in masochistic anticipation of the inevitable response.
Pallas, a reference to Pallas Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, is representative of knowledge, reason, and logic, while the Raven embodies imagination, darkness, and the unknown. By having the Raven perch unceremoniously on the bust, Poe is possibly belittling wisdom itself, suggesting that when the two collide, imagination will overpower reason.
Poe's poem is primarily about death—of his beloved Lenore and of hope. Here, the narrator makes the implication that other friends have died, along with hope, and he hopes the bird will as well (which is a bit of a tongue-in-cheek joke that he would refer to the raven as a friend). However, the raven’s reply suggests that the bird, as death personified, has arrived and will remain.