The Raven Characters
The main characters in “The Raven” are the speaker, the raven, and Lenore.
- The speaker is a man mourning the loss of his lover. His sadness and desperation lead him to torture himself with questions he know will cause him pain.
- The raven, which is perhaps just an ordinary bird who picked up his refrain (“Nevermore”) from a human, takes on supernatural significance in the disturbed speaker’s mind.
- Lenore is the beautiful lover whose death the speaker mourns.
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 660
There is little direct information about the speaker of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.” Because the poem unfolds from his perspective, the speaker’s character emerges through inadvertent details. It is clear from the start that he is a scholar of some kind. In “The Philosophy of Composition,” Poe refers to him as a “student,” which suggests his age but does not entirely clarify his pursuits. The poem’s second line finds him pondering over “many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore.” The bust of Pallas—that piece of professorial decor—further fills in the picture of the speaker as a seeker of knowledge. While the speaker’s class is never specified, the manner of his speech and the luxuriousness of his purple-curtained chambers suggest he is of an aristocratic, or at least affluent, background.
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The speaker is also, from the start, “weak and weary.” As soon becomes clear, his central source of conflict and pain is the loss of his love, Lenore. His grief for her drives the story of the poem. When the eponymous raven arrives and begins to utter its refrain, the word “Nevermore,” the speaker projects his obsessive grief onto the bird. The speaker takes the raven’s word as wisdom. So, when he asks a series of questions about the death of his beloved, the continual reply of “Nevermore” fills him with dread. Will he ever forget his grief? Is there any consolation? Will he ever see the lost Lenore again? Nevermore. Nevermore. Nevermore.
Edgar Allan Poe chose the figure of the raven to satisfy several of the formal guidelines he had set for the poem. As he describes in his essay “The Philosophy of Composition,” Poe had first decided to aim for a melancholic tone and to use a refrain of “Nevermore.” The conceit of the raven provides a reason for the single-word refrain, and the raven is, as Poe puts it, a “bird of ill omen” suited to a sorrowful poem.
The speaker sees the raven through the lens of his grief. Therefore he responds to the bird’s dreadful appearance and refrain by viewing it as a “prophet,” a “thing of evil,” and a “devil” from “Night’s Plutonian shore.” The poem never outright denies the speaker’s intuitions, but attentive readers will keep in mind that the speaker’s depiction of the raven is colored with emotion. On the most basic level, the raven is simply a raven that croaks the one word it knows, oblivious to the speaker’s plight. Poe considers the raven a “non-reasoning creature,” but the question of reasoning is less critical than that of caring. The raven is, as the speaker initially acknowledges, apathetic towards the speaker. “Nevermore” means nothing, though the speaker begins to believe otherwise.
Lenore is less a character than an animating memory in the mind of the speaker. Poe chose the figure of Lenore for formal reasons, just as he did in the case of the raven. Aiming for a singularly melancholic effect, Poe chose a deceased woman as his subject. As he puts it in his essay “The Philosophy of Composition,” “the death, then, of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world.” The name Lenore rhymes with the refrain “Nevermore,” allowing for an interweaving of the two words throughout the poem.
Lenore the person does not exist in the poem. What appears of her is the speaker’s sorrowful and reverent recollections of her. The speaker refers to her several times as “the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.” At one point he even dubs her a “sainted maiden.” The Lenore who emerges is not a human being but the speaker’s grandly idealized figure of purity and perfection. Poe may have made Lenore an abstract figure so that readers have space to fill in their own details and thereby feel her loss more tragically.