What does it mean to explain the conflict in "The Raven"?

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The most common definition of “conflict” in literature is that of a “struggle” between the protagonist and the antagonist of the literary work.

Your question is asking to explain what it means when someone says “explain the conflict” of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem The Raven.  The answer is that you are being asked to identify what the struggle is that is taking place in the poem, who is struggling, and the circumstances that surround the struggle.

Kinds of Struggle in The Raven

To answer this particular question, it is important to understand that there are two kinds of struggle: external and internal. Internal struggles are psychological.  Thoughts, ideas, emotions, desires, virtue and vice are often involved as the source of the main character’s woes. As such, these issues happen from within, that is, they do not come from the environment.

External conflicts do come from “outside,” and from the environment. They comprise the sum of all circumstances that surround the main character and affect him, or her, negatively.  The tactics of the antagonist, social struggle, and environmental blocking become obstacles to the main character, or protagonist, and this is where the conflict ensues.

In the poem The Raven the primary conflict is internal. The main character is in deep mourning, depressed, and unable to move on psychologically from the passing of the woman that he loves, Lenore.

While it is arguable that an external conflict could be identified as the unwelcome entrance of the raven into the main character’s house, the reality is that the act of a bird nesting near, or even flying into a warm, well-lit home in the dead of winter, is more of a natural reaction than an act of Providence. 

Yet, since the main character sees the visit of the raven as an act of Providence, and as a foreboding of bad and sad things to come, the internal conflict intensifies as a result of the external input serving as further evidence, to the main character, that his irrational thoughts are actually correct.

Therefore, the conflict, or struggle, in The Raven is the main character against his own thoughts and emotions, as he does very little to move away from his sad point of depression and isolation, and makes his own woes all the more tragic and deep.

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