What is the conflict in "The Raven"?

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Edgar Allan Poe's poem, "The Raven", is focused on an inner conflict, the struggle of the narrator against his own sorrow and depression at the death of Lenore. The poem opens by describing the narrator's situation:

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

Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore

The terms "weak and weary" suggest that the narrator is suffering but is struggling to complete some intellectual project despite his depression. 

The bird that appears at his door is a large black raven, that can only croak a single word, "nevermore"; whether the bird really says "nevermore" or whether our unhappy narrator is ready meaning into a random croaking noise is uncertain. Although the narrator claims to understand that the bird is really just a bird and the the word "nevermore" merely a habitual answer, the narrator continues to ask the bird questions phrased in such a way that the answer "nevermore" seems to confirm his unhappy thoughts.

Although one could argue that on the surface there is a conflict between the narrator and the bird, the narrator doesn't take up a broom or long stick and try to drive the raven away; instead he has a conversation with it. In fact, the somewhat surreal description of the bird makes us as an audience wonder if it is real or merely a projection of the narrator's emotional state. Thus the central conflict is really between the narrator and despair.