The Raven Characters at a Glance

"The Raven" key characters:

  • In "The Raven," the young male speaker sits in his room mourning the loss of his lover; his sadness and desperation lead him to torture himself with questions he knows will cause him pain.

  • The raven, most likely an escaped pet who picked up his refrain (“Nevermore”) from his previous master, takes on supernatural significance in the disturbed narrator’s mind.

  • Lenore, though discussed abstractly in the poem, appears to be the beautiful lover whose death the speaker mourns.

Themes and Characters

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

As Poe proclaims in "The Philosophy of Composition," the aim of his poem was to elevate the soul, a goal that could best be reached by the presentation of "Beauty." For Poe, Beauty is most readily perceived in a mood of sadness, and the most mournful event that the artist could conceive was "the death of a beautiful woman" (an incident that he believed was "the most poetical topic in the world"). So, a sense of loss, with no hope of ever again seeing the beloved is the real topic of the poem.

While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,/ As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
To address this topic, only two characters are needed—one of them the mourning lover and the other a grimly symbolic bird, an omen of evil. Poe carefully selected a raven for two sensible reasons: the bird suggests melancholy associations; and sometimes such a creature can utter a few syllables. In this case, the syllables are cleverly chosen by the poet: "Nevermore." It is important to note that the meaning of this one word, which is repeated throughout the poem, depends on the questions posed by the melancholy student.

As the stanzas advance, the student loses his initial surprise at the appearance of the raven, and each question becomes more serious and portentous. Thus, the entire poem can be seen as a vision of the unhappy flow of tragic emotions and hopeless thoughts in the mind and heart of the student. The bird may be...

(The entire section is 281 words.)