The Raven Questions and Answers
by Edgar Allan Poe

The Raven book cover
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What does the raven symbolize?

The raven in "The Raven" symbolizes death in a number of ways. First, it comes at midnight, the death of day. Second, it comes in December, a month that signifies the death of the year and of nature. Third, it is “ebony” in color, which often symbolizes the figurative and literal darkness of death. Fourth, it comes precisely while the narrator mourns the death of his lover. Fifth, the narrator can never escape it.

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The raven is a symbol of death in this poem. The narrator has experienced a significant loss: the death of his lover, Lenore, for whom he grieves deeply. The raven also appears in “bleak December,” the month that signifies the death of the year, and at “midnight,” a time that signifies the death of day.

When it appears, the speaker says that the raven is “stately” and that it makes no “obeisance” to him, even adopting the “mien of lord or lady.” In short, the raven acts as though it is mighty and unstoppable, is superior to or more powerful than the human speaker, and has every right to go wherever and whenever it wants to—just like death would feel and act, presumably, as a result of its power over human beings.

The speaker also describes the bird as being “ebony” in color, a deep black that is often symbolic of death, and even the raven itself is a bird that eats carrion (or the carcasses of other animals). It comes as the narrator is contemplating mortality and the death of his lover, Lenore, and he even says that the bird has come from “the Night’s Plutonian shore”: Pluto was the Roman god of the Underworld. The speaker tries to banish the bird but ultimately says,

my soul from out that [bird’s] shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted—nevermore!

This certainly makes it seem as though the bird symbolizes death because the narrator can never be unaware of death or mortality now that he has experienced such a loss firsthand.

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