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The raven in Edgar Allan Poe's poem is an ambiguous character. If we read the poem through a supernatural lens—that is, if we think the raven really can understand the speaker's questions and is an otherworldly messenger of doom—that might suggest the raven is bad (since he brings bad tidings and torments the narrator). If, however, we think the raven is something more along the lines of an escaped pet who simply recites a stock phrase ("what it utters is its only stock and store / caught from some unhappy master"), then it's the narrator who tortures himself. He knows what the raven's answer will be, yet he asks increasingly depressing questions, projecting his own gloom and despair onto the bird. In this case, the raven is just a strange bird, neither evil nor supernatural.

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The raven is a highly intelligent, big, all-black bird largely found in the Northern Hemisphere. It feeds on both plants and animals and thus is highly adaptable to different living circumstances. Its diet includes seeds, nuts, fruits and berries, insects, worms, rodents, small birds, carrion, eggs, and so on. Actually, its omnivorous nature means that it eats almost anything that can be eaten. This could explain why it is regarded as a “bad” bird, because it eats carcasses and is to be found in dump sites, scavenging on rotting food. It is also quite greedy and frequently steals from other animals to feed itself. Its sometimes incessant caw and lack of physical beauty, being all black, could also explain why it is disliked much.

Superstition and folklore consider ravens as symbols of bad news. Most European cultures thought that ravens signified evil. For instance, the French thought that they were the souls of evil priests, the Germans that they were damned souls reincarnated, and the Danes that they were “exorcized spirits.” Within the Christian religion, these birds are thought of as gluttonous and “unclean” because their diet consists of other animals. As such, people are advised not to partake of them.

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