How does Edgar Allan Poe create suspense in The Raven?

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akoehler2 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Edgar Allen Poe creates quite a bit of suspense in "The Raven." The setting is established as a "midnight dreary" and  "bleak December" where our narrator cannot seem to rest peacefully. He begins to hear noises and voices "rapping at my chamber door." He proceeds to open the door to find no one there, yet he still hears voices that speak the name of his lost love, Lenore. Now, by this point, we realize that the narrator is very upset about Lenore noting being present for the narrator declares, "For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—Nameless here for evermore." While we do not know the circumstances of this lost love being gone, the narrator is up late at night, thinking about Lenore when he begins to hear the name whispered. The curtains are moving and the narrator peers out into the darkness, wondering and fearing, attempting "to still the beating of my heart." Readers too wonder what might happen next. Is someone or something there?

Finally, a raven seemingly appears at his window. The narrator, relieved, proceeds to have quite an intense conversation with this bird, most likely due to the narrator being reclusive upon stating "other friends have flown before." He seems to dwell and more the lose of Lenore by isolating himself from the world. The narrator becomes further mystified when  the raven begins to speak and say "nevermore." Immediately the narrator believes the raven is referring to his lost love and the mood of the poem shifts as the narrator's anger builds the more the raven replays "nevermore" to his inquires about being with Lenore once more. The continued repetition of 'nevermore' along with the intensity of the narrator's dialogue build upon the suspense of what is or is not real. Is the narrator have a conversation with a raven or is this all in his imagination, stemming from too much time alone? The many references to evil, hell,shadows and demons place a further chilling mood to the poem. 

aidand747 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Edgar Allan Poe creates suspense in his poem "The Raven" through the implementation of several poetic devices. 

Repetition: While repetition is frequently used by poets to emphasize a phrase or meaning in a work, Poe uses repetition to build tension. By describing the action of the "tapping, tapping" upon the chamber door several times throughout the poem, the reader's attention is repeatedly drawn to the mysterious noise before Poe actually reveals the source of the sound. Like the speaker of the poem, the reader begins to obsess over what the source of the sound could possibly be, which creates suspense as they await the answer. 

Rhyme Scheme: Poe uses a fairly unique ABCBBB rhyme scheme throughout the poem. The slight variation keeps the piece from sounding tedious to the ear, however the constant return to the B rhyme, the "or" sound, pulls the reader onward from line to line through the poem. The expectation of this end rhyme quickens the pace of the poem, which also works to increase the suspense as the speaker becomes more frantic. 

Personification: Poe is a master of using the supernatural to create suspense, and in this poem such an employment of the supernatural takes the form of the talking raven. While birds appear frequently in poetry, they are typically presented as symbols of the serenity of nature or freedom. In Poe's case, he uses the raven as a taunting, demon-esque figure, which can speak but only ever repeats the word "Nevermore." Again, repetition comes into play, and each time the raven says "Nevermore," the speaker becomes more and more irritated and more and more consumed by thoughts of his lost love. Face to face with this supernatural entity whose sole purpose seems to be to torture him, his rising temper creates suspense as the reader does not know how he will react to this torment.