Is there any evidence suggesting the speaker is going mad?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven," the stanzas begin subtlely and rise in a crescendo of emotional tension and strained reasoning that certainly connote the psychological change in the speaker.

Beginning with the first stanza, the speaker states that he is fatigued and hears a gentle tapping as he nods in a somnolent condition; however, he first concludes that this rapping at his door is "nothing more."  Yet, as the poem progresses, the innocent and amusing remarks change from "nothing more" to "evermore" to "nevermore"; words that give rise to heightened sensibility of the mysterious and the macabre.  For instance, in the fifth stanza, the speaker expresses fear, doubt, and dreams "no mortal ever dared to dream before," and his psyche begins to become unstable as the speaker loses his sense of reality. He begins to aggrandize the bird as of Biblical or mythological proportions:  the phrase, "bird of yore" alludes to Kings 17:1-6 in which Elijah the prophet is fed by ravens in the wilderness; the raven is perched upon a bust of Pallas, the Greek goddess of wisdom; the bird is perceivedas from the "night's Putonian shore." 

Indeed, as the lines of Poe's poem progress, so, too, does his speaker's obsession with the raven.  From mere amusement at its first appearance, the speaker then envisions the bird upon a grand scale, and generates an obsessive fixation upon it. The first utterances of only whispered words and wind move from "nothing more" to "evermore," to "Nevermore," a word that is repeated obsessively as the speaker's emotional state crescendos with the quickening rhythm of the stanzas that move his bemused state to horror as he realizes that his lovely Lenore will return "nevermore." Finally, the emotionally tortured speaker "shrieked,"

"Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!"

But, the raven remains over the chamber door "and his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming..." the speaker observes.  He describes his soul under the "shadow that lies floating on the floor" that will be lifted "nevermore!" No longer is the speaker rational as he feels himself under the shadow of this dark bird.