How do I write a critical analysis of the Poem "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe?

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favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One place you might begin would be to unpack the symbolism of the raven itself. Throughout the poem, the narrator comes to believe that the raven is many different things. First, he is taken aback by the raven's demeanor; the bird, apparently, behaves with "mien of lord or lady" and doesn't seem to concern himself with paying "obeisance" or respect to the narrator. Is this merely the way such a bird might behave or is it indicative of something more?

Then, the raven flies up and perches on a bust of Athena, or "Pallas." The narrator soon decides that the bird is simply repeating the one word it knows: "Nevermore." He assumes that the raven once belonged to some hopeless person who uttered the word frequently, and this is how the raven learned it. This would make the bird pretty typical, with nothing special about him. Yet, he perches on a bust of the Greek goddess of wisdom. Is the bird wise, and are his answers meaningful? Or is his lack of intelligence juxtaposed with the intelligence represented by the goddess?

At one point, the narrator claims that the raven was sent by God to distract him from his sorrow. At another, he wants to know if the raven can tell him of some silver lining in death, some way that he might, once again, see Lenore. At still another, he calls the raven a "devil" and insists that the bird has only come to torture him. Ultimately, the narrator says that his "soul from out that [raven's] shadow that lies floating on the floor / Shall be lifted –– nevermore!" He feels that he will never again exist without the raven's presence and influence over him. A good literary analysis would need to address the raven's symbolism: what IS he? Is he just a bird, about which the narrator merely speculates? Or, is he actually sentient and there to help or hurt the narrator?

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To write a critical analysis of “The Raven” or any other poem, you need to find a place to focus.  Some good areas to start are theme and literary devices.

The theme of a poem is the meaning the poet wants to impart.  There are different interpretations of poems, but in general the reader should find identify themes of dealing with loss, love, and isolation.

Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought

          to borrow

From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for

          the lost Lenore—

You can find these themes in the discussion of the speaker’s feelings of sadness, and the description of his feelings of loss and frustration.  He sits up alone, trying to distract himself with study.

Another important element of literary analysis of a poem is identification of literary devices used in the poem.  Mood is an important element of the poem, because it helps to establish the theme.  The words “sorrow” and “dreary” are some of the ones used to establish the mood of lonliness.  This mood is also established by repetition, another literary device where phrases are repeated for effect.