What best traits of human nature does Edgar Allan Poe reveal in "The Raven"?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In "The Raven," Edgar Allan Poe reveals one of the greatest traits of human nature is the capacity to love, just as the speaker clearly deeply loved the late Lenore. Poe also shows that with love comes the ability to take grief to an extreme.

We can tell how dearly the speaker loves the recently deceased Lenore when he describes her as a "rare and radiant maiden," meaning a unique young woman who shines brightly with beauty and joy. Yet, the speaker is also so grieved by her death that he does nothing but sit in sorrow and try to distract himself by reading. We might even accuse the speaker of being so deep in grief that he hallucinates about being haunted by a raven. Poe uses the poem to satirize such profound grief.

In addition to making one feel extreme grief, love also has the ability to make human beings hope, another excellent human trait. Poe uses the poem to show that even hope can be taken to an absurd extreme. The speaker has dealt with his grief over the loss of Lenore by visualizing himself with her in the afterlife:

Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.

Yet, Poe dashes the speaker's hope by having the raven assert that the speaker will hold Lenore "nevermore," meaning not even in the afterlife. In all, the poem calls into question beliefs in the spirit world and the afterlife, beliefs often based purely on hope.

Hence, while Poe reveals two of the best traits of human nature in the poem—love and hope—he also shows both can lead human beings to feel extreme emotions to the point of absurdity, such as extreme grief and extreme hope.