What is the setting and what words or phrases help paint the setting in the dramatic poem "The Raven" by Poe? How is the narrator affected by the poem's setting?

Expert Answers
carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,

Over many a quaint and cuious volume of forgotten lore,

This scene begins the classic poem “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe.  The unreliable narrator seems to be struggling with his mental turmoil and depression.  He struggles with the death of his lost Lenore but controls his emotions. 

The Gothic setting of the poem is the man’s bedroom although Poe chooses to call it a more sinister name chamber. The time is midnight in December on a dark stormy night. The fire in the fireplace throws ghostly shadows on the floor. The man is almost asleep when he hears something tapping.

The nameless narrator has been trying to avoid thinking about his dead lover by reading. The narrator wishes that it was already the morning. Initially the narrator appears rational. As the night progresses, he finds no balm in Gilead to give him respite from his surroundings or the evil bird.

The man is afraid of the movement of the curtains and is filled with a terror that he has never felt before.  Finally, he grows brave enough to go to the door and but there is nothing there but darkness. He hears the tapping again, but this time from the window.

The speaker opens the window and in comes the raven. It flies to the bust of Athena over the door.  The narrator smiles at the sternness of the bird.  So in a poetic phrase, he asks the bird what is doing out on such a night:

Though they crest be shorn and shaven, thou art, sure no craven,

Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the Nightly shore—

Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!

                                        Quoth the raven, Nevermore.

From then on the man becomes obsessed by the bird.  The man begins to associate the bird with his loneliness and feeling that even the bird will desert him.

Placing his chair so that he can observe the raven, he begins to wonder what the bird is really doing in his bedroom.  He reclines his head his head on a velvet cushion and continues to watch the bird. 

As the man sits there, he begins to believe that the air is changing in the room.  It is becoming thicker and more perfumed.  He then judges that angels are in the room and have something to do with the bird. As the bird looks at the man, he feels that the bird’s fiery eyes are burning into his heart.

At this time, the man drinks Nepenthe, a drink that causes forgetfulness.  His attitude changes toward the raven. He tells him to come down from the bust above the door; of course, the raven tells him, Nevermore.

According to the narrator, the raven with its demon eyes and the of the raven on the floor.  It seems as though the narrator’s soul and the raven have blended together nevermore to be parted.




Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Setting comprises both time and place/location. Poe sets up the understanding of both in his early stanzas. The language he uses is vague and what we today might now call minimalistic. For this reason, the time and location might slip by a reader's attention if not reading closely and with analytical insight.

Poe intentionally constructs the setting in this vague way, alluding to what is rather than proclaiming what is. A vague and mysterious setting enhances the experience of suspense and the mood of trembling fear and anticipation. In other words, if we don't know precisely where we are in relation to a larger structure, our sensations are more directly focused on the events and sensations of the principal character: and his sensations are terror and tremblings:

fantastic terrors never felt before; So that now, to still the beating of my heart, ...

Now to answer your questions:

  • The character in the poetic narrative is in what we might call his study or library reading: "quaint and curious volume."
  • He is in one closed room rather than in an open room of a large dwelling: "rapping at my chamber door."
  • It is his personal abode as he has a "visitor"; we can thus say he is at home: "'T is some visiter,..."
  • The time of year is early winter, "in bleak December."
  • His decor is costly, with silk and purple trimmings: "silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain."

Now that you are started on your way, you can scour the rest of the poem for more vague references to other bits of information about the setting and see if Poe tells us more or if he leaves the setting with this shadowy image.

sciftw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven" is a poem that describes a man contemplating his lost love.  He hears a knock at the door, opens it, and in flies a raven.  The raven can say a single "nevermore."  The man continues to ask the raven various questions and the answer "nevermore" causes the man to spiral ever deeper into sorrowful insanity.  

The setting takes place in a room of this man's house.  It's never said exactly which room of the house, but it's likely the man's study or library.  That room would for sure have a comfortable chair and a fireplace to keep it warm.  The warmth is important, because it's late at night (midnight to be specific) and the month is December.  In a nutshell, the man is sitting alone, on a cold, dark, winter night thinking about his lost love. That image alone creates a sense of claustrophobia.  Additionally most people hear weird things late at night and the mixture of light and shadows usually plays tricks on people's sight.  Add on top of that the fact that the man is not in a great emotional state and the reader has a nice recipe for creepy to be believable.  

Poe, in his 1846 essay "The Philosophy of Composition," explains exactly why he chose the setting and overall topic of "The Raven."  He knew the mood he wanted to create and then proceeded to fit the setting and plot around that.