Edgar Allan Poe “The Raven”

Edgar Allan Poe is a prominent American writer, poet, editor and literary critic, whose works are popular with the readers all over the globe. The timeless themes of Poe’s stories and the struggles of his characters indeed remain relevant nowadays. His cocktail of death, love and suffer is of an undying combination. His short stories and poems are sodden with darkness, agony, mystery, and obsession of inevitable death, they thrill and excite. The Pit And The Pendulum, The Black Cat, The Cask of Amontillado, The Fall Of The House of Usher are only a few of his famous works. And his most recognizable and outstanding work is, definitely, a narrative poem The Raven.

The Raven Summary

Edgar Allan Poe’s own life was as agonizing as the life of many of his characters and is still of great interest among literary scholars and critics. What he wrote down was the reflection of his real-life situations and objects, as well as the reflection of his imaginary mental world. Poe’s life in connection with his literary works was and is the topic of different studies and analysis of various scholars and debaters that still cannot reach an agreement. This essay will be aimed at applying a psychoanalytic critical approach to The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe.

In the beginning, some words about the poem and its plot. The Raven was first published in 1845 but still captures the readers with its somber and supernatural atmosphere, ghostly horror and ominous and dismal mood. The narrator of the poem is a young man, obviously a student, as late at night he sits and ponders over “forgotten lore”(Poe). He tries to draw away the thoughts about Lenore – the loss of his love. Suddenly, he hears a tapping and soon the raven flies into his chamber and sits on the bust of Pallas, goddess of wisdom, in Greek mythology. The narrator is surprised and asks the raven to tell him its name. The bird’s answer is: “Nevermore”. (Poe, 1)  The narrator is astonished that the creature can speak, but later makes a conclusion that it learned the word from its previous “unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster/ Followed fast and followed faster” (Poe).  Also, the narrator admits to himself that the bird is going to fly away and leave him, as his friends and hopes did before. The protagonist sits near the raven in order to divine the purpose of his appearance and soon makes a guess that the bird was sent by God as a sign to forget his beloved Lenore. The raven’s constant “nevermore” makes the narrator angry and he calls it “prophet”, “the thing of evil” and drives him out of doors, but the bird “never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting” (Poe). The poem denouement is tragic: “And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor/ Shall be lifted–nevermore!” (Poe)

The Raven Analysis

This is what the ordinary reader sees in the poem. Psychoanalysis gives the opportunity to the reader to look at the literary work below its surface. Psychoanalyzing the author, the character and settings allow the reader to better understanding. The general purpose of psychoanalytic criticism is to uncover the working of the human mind, the expression of the unconscious.

The idea of psychoanalytic criticism was developed in the works of Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, who was a groundbreaker of the technique of psychoanalysis. Freud, in his Creative Writer and Day-dreaming, investigated the nature of literature and introduced his theory on the structure of the literary work. According to Freud, the literary work is similar to a daydream. They both contain in their fantasies “the fulfillment of an unsatisfied wish and thus improve on an unsatisfactory reality.” The content of any literary work are fantasies of fulfillment, whereas the formal elements of the work are used to disguise these wishes, as they may be unacceptable or repulsive in the real life of the author. “The writer softens the character of his egoistic day-dreams by altering and disguising it” (Freud). In his essay, Freud states that any literary work contains symbols that are to be understood and psychoanalysis is a great tool to reveal the hidden meanings of those symbols. Moreover, the literary work may help to reveal the disguised information about the author, as they are considered to be the products of his psyche.

In general, psychoanalytic criticism introduces three approaches to analyzing a literary work. The first is focused on the life of the author. The literary work is seen as a source of evidence that can support the assumptions and hypothesis. The second approach is aimed to analyze one or more fictional characters of the work, but usually, it is a protagonist. It can help to understand and explain the character’s behavior and motivation. The third approach is meant to study the influence of the literary work on its reader, who can unconsciously respond to the situations depicted in the work. Also, it focuses on the effect on the reader’s mental and sensory faculties.

The Raven Setting & Background

Edgar Allan Poe is considered to be one of the most appealing authors to literary critics and psychoanalysts, because of his melodramatic life story. A lot of facts from his biography are regarded to be invented and fictitious. Some of the legends were created and spread by Edgar Poe himself. After a thorough studying of his biography, it should be mentioned that there is an event in Poe’s childhood that influenced his works – it is the death of his mother Eliza Poe. The theme of the loss of a woman is widely spread in Poe’s fiction, as well as in The Raven. The narrator is in sorrow “for the lost Lenore” (Poe, 1), the memories of her haunt him and are difficult to forget. Marie Bonaparte in her book The Life and Works of Edgar Allan Poe made a conclusion that Poe’s literary works are driven by a strong wish to reunite with his mother. This desire makes him castrated, according to Freudian theory, and unable to have normal relations with women. Bonaparte mentions that Poe often repeats the situation “of some ideal women who sickens and dies” that is a reflection to his mother. As Poe lost his maternal love when he was a child, there is a lack of libido.

On the other hand, the lost Lenore may have been inspired by the loss of his wife Virginia, who had died of tuberculosis in 1847. When Poe was writing the poem Virginia was seriously ill, so there existed a fear of losing sexual consummation of the marriage. After her death, Poe collapsed started drinking again and died in 1849. Poe saw in Virginia not only a wife but also a mother; he could not continue his life without her. It proves the assumption that he was dependent upon her in two things – inspiration and care.

The Raven Narrator

The narrator of The Raven is obviously has a drive to death, which is commonly called Thanatos. This death drive can compel people to engage in self-distractive and risky acts that could result in their own death. In the narrator, the Thanatos instinct reveals in his desire to suffer and torture himself with the memories of his beloved and lost Lenore. Everything that happened with him was connected in his mind with Lenore: when somebody tapped at his door – “But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,/ And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”” (Poe, 1); when he thought that God has sent him the raven with the purpose – “Respite-respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!/ Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!” (Poe) So, in the end, the narrator dies, as the human mind is powerful enough to bring to death only with a thought.

The narrator of the poem may suffer from dissociative identity disorder, thus the image of a raven may be regarded as the narrator’s dissociative personality. According to Freud, it may be called Id. As Id is a part of the personality structure that is responsible for instinct drives and appears with the birth of a child. Id works by the principle that is based on satisfying a person’s primary desires and wishes. The fulfillment of primary desires brings people happiness. It is a treasure trove of primitive instinctual desires, emotions, memories, forgotten childhood images, injuries, hostility to his parents, non-incarnate sexual desires. The consciousness rejects everything and accepts as inappropriate. Top components of Id are sexual and aggressive desires that require immediate implementation. So the raven supports the idea of the narrator’s drive to death. The raven may even be his plot of imagination that stands for the part of the narrator’s mind that thinks rational and knows that he will unite with his lost Lenore “nevermore”.

The readers who enjoy such a poem may also see in the text the reminding of a loss of a female. Or take pleasure in suffering and agony, as The Raven only evokes those emotions along with fear, loneliness, pain, and thrill. So the presence of Thanatos is obvious. After reading the poem, the narrator may feel miserable, gloomy, depressed and in mourning. As the melodic structure of the poem wafts sorrow and helps to transfer the authors, as well as the narrator’s emotions and feelings.

To make a conclusion, Freudian psychoanalysis allows the reader to understand and find a new meaning of a literary work. Thus the analysis of Poe’s literary legacy is a great key to understanding his hidden senses. Psychoanalytic criticism applied to the poem The Raven helps to view the author’s work like a dream that uncovers all the hidden meanings and discovers his unfulfilled wishes and desires, mental disorders and childhood traumas. All the issues are reflected in the narrator of the poem, his state of mind and definitely convey to the reader’s mental and sensory faculties.

Questions and Answers

What symbolism The Raven has?
The Raven is a symbol of loss and death. it comes to the narrator’s home when he is vulnerable the most and mourns his beloved.
What does the poem The Raven mean?
Poe meant the poem The Raven to symbolize mournful, never-ending remembrance.
How is the raven described in the poem The Raven?
The raven is called an “ungainly fowl,” an “ebony bird,” and “a stately raven.”
What is the Ravens name in The Raven?
It has no name. When the bird comes to the room, the narrator asks it what its name is, not expecting an answer. But the raven  just croaks, “Nevermore.”
How did Lenore die in The Raven?
The poem refers to the “lost Lenore” but it doesn’t explicitly mean that she died physically. Poe may be talking about lost love to the woman.

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