Symbolism in The Raven
Lenore: The narrator gives no description of Lenore. We do not know what she looks like or what exactly the relationship between Lenore and the narrator is. All we know is that the narrator really misses her. The lack of details regarding Lenore makes her a likely symbol. She may represent idealized love, beauty, truth, or hope in a better world. She is “rare and radiant” we are told several times, an angelic description, perhaps symbolic of heaven. Lenore may symbolize truth: the narrator cannot help but think of her, and her ubiquitous, yet elusive, nature haunts the narrative.
The Raven: The most obvious symbol is contained in the poem’s title. The raven enters the room imperiously and holds dominion over the narrator. The bird’s darkness symbolizes death; hence, death becomes a constant reminder, an imperious intruder. If taken in a broader context, the poem may be about the inability of man to escape his ultimate fate, a reoccurring theme in Poe’s short works.
Night’s Plutonian Shore: The phrase “Night’s Plutonian Shore” incorporates all the negative aspects associated with death. Pluto is the Roman god of the underworld; hence, his shore would be the underworld. Combined with “night,” a common symbol for death and nothingness, and shore, representative of the vast ocean and all its mysterious inhabitants, Plutonian takes on an enhanced meaning.
Nepenthe: The narrator desperately searches for something that will remove his pain and suffering. This is symbolized by Nepenthe, an ancient drug used to help one relieve sorrows.
The Bust of Pallas: Pallas Athena was the Greek goddess of wisdom. It is upon this wisdom that the raven settles, adding credence, at least according to the narrator, to its utterances. The bust of Pallas and the raven’s subsequent perch on it may be ironic, for it is the narrator that gives the bird such wisdom. A casual observer would assume the bird sits there because it seems like a logical resting place. If you’re ever in Europe, note how the pigeons perch themselves on statues in the center of town. Only a moron would assume a bird takes on the character of a statue on which he perches. I don’t think, for example, that a bird resting on Napoleon’s shoulder suddenly becomes a ruthless general.
Midnight: Traditionally referred to as the witching hour and the darkest part of night–midnight is more than a number on the clock. It is no accident that Poe chooses this as the time for the bird’s arrival.
December: Nothing lives in the winter. December is in the winter. December symbolizes death.
I hope this analysis of symbolism in The Raven helps you with your next homework assignment. Please contribute to the comments section with your thoughts on these symbols.
This post is part of the series: The Edgar Allan Poe Poetry Study Guide
- Summary of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”
- Poe Poetry Analysis: Symbolism in “The Raven”
- Analysis of Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe
- Literary Analysis of “The Bells” by Edgar Allan Poe
- Edgar Allan Poe Poems: An Analysis of Eldorado