How do poetic devices and figurative language affect the reader's understanding of Gothic themes in The Raven?

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mbroncano62 | College Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

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It is well known that Edgar Allen Poe was very fond of the Gothic genre. What is not so often acknowledged is the fact that Poe often made the Gothic the object of his parody: for example, "The Fall of the House of Usher," one of his most famous short stories, deploys many elements typical of the canonical Gothic tale, such as a decaying mansion secluded in a forlorn and ominous landscape, a violent thunderstorm that bursts precisely at the climax of the story (which is the appearance of the lady Madeline enshrouded and covered by blood), the old romance that Roderick is reading, which evokes the events taking place in the House of Usher itself, etc. And yet, Poe  combines such elements in such an exaggerated manner that they reveal their artificiality and conventionality.  With his parody, Poe aims to criticize the poor artistic quality of much of the literature being written in the United States at the time, which were oftentimes Gothic tales without any literary value. Many of his newspaper and magazine articles bear witness to that.

In this context, the Gothic elements in "The Raven" can be seen as double-edged, and the ultimate purpose of the author remains rather unclear, in the sense that while the poem is an elegy, that is, a lamentation for a deceased person, it is also a mystery story in which the bird acquires spectral and even demonic connotation. Poe took pains in describing how he wrote his famous poem in the essay "The Philosophy of Composition" and in that text he never uses the term "Gothic," despite the fact that some of the materials he uses for the poem belong clearly in that genre. The setting of "The Raven", which is both lyric and narrative, recreates a sitting room during a dark December night, when the narrator finds himself sitting be the fire and reading an old volume which contains ancient (and therefore arcane) lore, or knowledge, while he tries to overcome the torturing pain caused by his remembrance of the dead Leonore, the angelical maiden who was the object of the narrator's adoration. In the opening lines, we are told that in the fireplace "each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor," a clear anticipation of ghostly nature of the black bird who appears in the midst of the night. In fact, the poem abounds with terms like "ominous," "devil," "terror," "fiend," "demon," etc., which reinforce the effect of horror and fear which Poe seeks to impress upon his readers. By means of repetitions (as in the refrain "Nevermore" which is repeated over and over by the raven), alliterations and internal rhymes ("Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary"), personification (a raven that is able to speak), juxtaposition of angelical and demonic imagery (the angels who name Leonore and the demon-like bird) are among the devices and strategies that Poe deploys in the construction of his unique poem.

 

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