Ten Essay Ideas for The Raven

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1. Discuss the use of symbols in Poe's "The Raven."

This essay should identify the major symbols used in the poem, and discuss what effect each has. The most important symbol is the raven itself, with its dark and gloomy appearance lending a sense of inevitability. Other symbols include the Bust of Pallas, who is the Goddess of Wisdom, and the beautiful chamber, which is reminiscent of the beauty of the lost Lenore.

2. Explore the parallels between "The Raven" and Poe's own life.

This essay should focus on Poe's life circumstances at the time of writing, particularly the decline in his wife, Virginia's, health, and the deaths of other women in his life. The sense of doom in the poem should be related to Poe’s pessimism about his own life.

3. The Raven has an undeniable atmosphere of doom. Discuss how this atmosphere is created.

This essay should explore how the different elements of the poem combine to create this atmosphere of doom. Elements which should be discussed include the poem’s subject matter, rhyme and meter, symbolism and word choice.

4. In his essay "The Philosophy of Composition" Poe explored the process he used to write "The Raven." How well does his poem meet the requirements set out in his essay?

This essay should detail the main elements of a good poem, as enunciated by Poe – namely a single effect, brevity, an impression of beauty and a tone of sadness. Each element should be applied to the poem in question.

5. Analyze the mood and tone of Poe's "The Raven."

This essay should focus on the melancholy and dreary mood of the poem. This is created by the choice of words (Gaunt, dreary. . .), the chain of events and the foreboding of the repeated word "Nevermore."

6. Is "The Raven" just a tale of a talking bird? What deeper themes does it explore?

This essay should focus on the themes of the poem – beauty, despair, destiny and horror. The bird is included not to overshadow the themes but to aid in their exploration.

7. In what ways is "The Raven" representative of Poe's use of beautiful women in his work?

This essay should compare Lenore – a woman of great beauty – with female figures in Poe's other works. The improtant point here is the predominance of beautiful women who are either mortally ill or already dead. Examples could include Eleanora, Madeline Usher and Ligeia.

8. What effect does the setting of the poem have?

This essay should discuss the physical elements of the setting: the library lined with heavy drapes which make it sound almost tomb-like; the fire which, with its 'dying embers', provides little solace; the time of year – December, with its lengthening nights and the closing of the year; and the lamp which gives the only light in the room – and also shadows to add to the horror.

9. In what ways is "The Raven" a 'horror' poem?

This essay should explore the way Poe builds the tension of the poem to create the same kind of horror as in many of his prose works. Elements include the use of the raven, long seen as a symbol of ill omen, and the effect its refrain has on the narrator; the growing insanity of the narrator, and the choice of language in the poem.

10. In "The Philosophy of Composition," Poe’s focus was primarily on the form and rhyme scheme of the work, rather than on its tone or subject matter. Does this suggest that Poe was unconcerned with these matters?

This essay should demonstrate that the form and rhyme scheme of the poem are an integral part of the tone and subject matter. The structure of the poem helps to create the growing sense of doom. Reference should be made to the poem’s rhyme scheme, rhythm and the use of repetition.

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