What is the symbolism in "The Raven"?

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You could certainly focus on the symbolism of the raven itself. You might consider choosing three different things that the bird seems to symbolize to the narrator at various points in the poem and then analyze the bird in the context of the narrator's sorrow over his lost love, Lenore. In different sections of the poem, the raven might symbolize a divine distraction from the narrator's sorrow, a bad omen of future loneliness and continued sorrow, an evil messenger from the Devil, or even a constant reminder of the narrator's own mortality, as well as Lenore's.

Or, taking a different tack, you could explore other potentially symbolic items in the poem. For one example, the poem takes place at "midnight dreary" on a night in "bleak December," and when the narrator opens the door, he finds "Darkness there and nothing more." You could certainly analyze these descriptions as symbols: certainly Poe often uses midnight as a symbol of human mortality (as it represents the "death" of day), and December, as the final month of the year, can also be representative of death (as well as being the month in which winter begins, the season most often associated with death).

You might also consider why the raven is said to perch on a bust of Pallas Athena. She is, after all, the goddess associated with wisdom, and the narrator does question the wisdom of the raven: is it simply repeating the one word its master taught it, or is it actually a conscious, thinking being who has come to torture the narrator? Is its landing on this bust a clue to how thoughtful the bird is, or are we meant to interpret it as an example of irony? Similarly, the narrator seems to be in a study of sorts: he has books, and, of course, there is a door to the outside in the room, which makes it seem as though it cannot be a bedroom. How might his reading, the activity in which he is engaged when the raven arrives, factor in to his understanding of the bird? 

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This poem, while admittedly sprinkled with figures of speech (synecdoche, litotes, personification, etc.) does not really get its strength from a series of linguistic tricks. (Of course, the central metaphor comparing the Raven to “death” or the sorrow of having lost someone is there, but does not make a strong thesis subject.) Better would be to concentrate on “how Poe structurally builds the reader’s tensions by rhythmically increasing the narrator’s plea to  ‘leave my loneliness unbroken’”.  Look at how Poe constructs the basis of the depression (or melancholy, as it was called), as the raven settles into the scene, and how the raven’s departure would be the final “desertion” the only thing the narrator has left is his melancholy.

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