Discussion Topic

Analysis of the Protagonist and Antagonist in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven"

Summary:

In Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven," the protagonist is the grieving narrator, who is mourning the loss of his beloved Lenore. The antagonist is the raven, a symbol of death and despair, which exacerbates the narrator's sorrow by repeatedly uttering "Nevermore," driving him to the brink of madness.

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Who is the protagonist in "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe?

The protagonist of a story is the central character, the person around whom the conflict centers.  In this poem, that person is the narrator, our scholar who is reading late and night and suffering from grief over his lost love.  The conflict that surrounds the narrator is the grief he suffers from - not the Raven himself.  The Raven is a symbol of death, and a symbol of the narrator's grief.  The narrator begins the story lonely and sad - consider the words "dreary, weary" - he also ends the story this way.  He has lost his battle with grief, and it "shall be lifted, nevermore!"

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Who are the characters in "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe?

While I agree that the narrator of the poem is a character and that Lenore's presence, although not physical, is certainly important to the poem, I'm not sure I believe the raven counts as a character.  To consider this alternative, we might entertain the idea that any quality, tone, or meaning the raven seems to possess only occurs as a result of the narrator's imagination and not because the raven itself intends it. 

The raven's one word —Nevermore — is, at first, interpreted by the narrator to be, simply, the word that its master must have uttered over and over, and this is a perfectly logical explanation of the bird's speech.  If, as the narrator suggests, the bird is a messenger, something sentient, and a being with knowledge of another world, then the raven is a character.  If, however, the raven is like the rest of its species and just happened to fly into the narrator's open window, then I think one could argue the raven doesn't count as a character any more than the bust of Athena or the narrator's books do.

If the raven is a character, then we would likely classify the conflict as one that occurs between the narrator and the raven; it seems just as likely, though, that we would classify the conflict in this story as an internal one. In this case, the bird seems to be the antagonist, but only as a result of the narrator's internal conflict. This would make the narrator's inner conflict the poem's antagonist.  The narrator projects his fear that he will never see Lenore again onto the raven, scapegoating it for fears he already had.

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Who are the characters in "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe?

The characters in "The Raven" are only the speaker and the bird. The speaker is alone, and it can be assumed that he wants to keep himself in isolation. The speaker is kept in the grip of grief from the loss of his love, Lenore. He seems to want to be kept company with only his memories and his grief over Lenore.

While Lenore is not physically present in the story, she is definitely a presence.

The speaker discusses the many wonderful qualities, as well as his inadequacies, basically to himself, but the raven does respond to his laments.

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In "The Raven," who are the protagonist and antagonist?

This is a very interesting question, and the answer to it depends a lot on your own personal reading of the poem. My own theory is that the speaker of the poem is both protagonist and antagonist, because it is he who insists on viewing the raven as some kind of supernatural agent of evil, whereas the truth is that it is just a raven and it is the speaker who interprets the response he receives from the raven as being of supernatural import. Note how this is suggested in the following quotation:

`Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!' I shrieked upstarting -
`Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken! - quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

The reader already knows from the first stanza that the speaker is both exhausted mentally and physically and also that he is grief-stricken. His response to the raven shows that he is his own worst enemy and he is psychologically torturing himself, even though he is not aware of it. It is he who insists on viewing the raven as belonging to "Night's Plutonian shore" and allows the presence of the raven to "break" his loneliness. This is above all a poem that is fascinating because of its psychological exploration of the extent to which a character can torture themselves, albeit unconsciously.

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