What are the "Five Ws" of "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe?

Quick answer:

The poem "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe revolves around a man who is grieving over the loss of his beloved Lenore, and the mysterious appearance of a raven which he speaks to. The raven never responds except with the word "Nevermore".

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

"The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe is one of the most famous and frightening poems in the English language. Its lyrical intensity, haunting cadence, and dark atmosphere make the reading of it an unforgettable experience.

Who : The poem's point of view is provided by an unnamed narrator...

This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

whose loveLenore has died. He has a fascination for obscure works of literature. When the raven arrives, he is pondering over "many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore." He hopes that his books will bring him at least temporary relief from the sorrow of losing Lenore, but this hope is in vain. The death of the woman has possibly caused the narrator to become unbalanced emotionally and psychologically, because he begins to speak to the raven when it enters his home as if it were supernatural and could give him some answers about Lenore. He is intent upon assuaging his grief and continues to ask pleading questions until the raven has convinced him that all he can expect forever is despair. As for Lenore, nothing more is said of her other than that she was a "fair and radiant maiden."

What: The object that the narrator focuses on is the raven, a mysterious bird that taps on the window and then flies in when he opens it. He perches upon a bust of Pallas, which refers to Pallas Athena, a Greek goddess known for her beauty and wisdom. From there the raven never leaves, and it answers any question asked of it with the ominous rejoinder of "Nevermore!"

When: The era in which the poem takes place is not given, but if we can assume that it is contemporary to the time when Poe wrote and published it, then it would take place in the mid-1800s. The narrator gives the specific time of the raven's arrival as midnight in "bleak December." However, it seems that the narrator is telling the story long afterwards, because in the last stanza, he emphasizes that the raven still sits silently on the "pallid bust," as if a long period of time has passed.

Where: The narrator refers to the place where the poem takes place as "my chamber," which would mean his bedroom. There is a fire burning, and he seems to have numerous books. The curtains are purple. When he opens the door to locate the source of the tapping, there is only darkness. The bust of Pallas is situated above the door of the chamber.

Why: There are two possible explanations as to why the raven appears and speaks to the narrator. One is that the events can be taken literally. In other words, the raven really is a demon sent from hell or the afterlife to torment the narrator. The other interpretation is that the narrator has gone mad with grief and that in his despair, he imagines the appearance of the raven and the sorrowful word that it speaks to him.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The "Five Ws"—who, what, when, where, and why—are normally used as guidelines for what reporters need to cover in the first few sentences of a news story. In the case of Poe's poem "The Raven," one could identify these key elements as follows.

  • Who: The main character in the poem is the narrator, a student who is mourning the loss of his lover. The second character in the poem is the raven, probably an escaped pet, that taps on the door of the narrator's room room and perches above the narrator's door after the narrator opens the door and admits him. Lenore, the beautiful dead woman mourned by the narrator, does not act in the poem but is mentioned frequently and is important for understanding the narrator's state of mind.
  • What: The main event of the poem is the raven entering the room of the narrator. The poem is more focused on the psychology of the narrator than on specific events.
  • When: The time is described in the line "Once upon a midnight dreary..."
  • Where: The action of the poem takes place in the narrator's room.
  • Why: The bird is probably a lost pet looking for food and warmth. The narrator's reaction to the bird is grounded in his being depressed over the death of Lenore.
Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The "Five W's" of "The Raven"

Who:  The only two living characters are the narrator and the visitor who comes to his chamber--The Raven.

What:  The narrator, who is up late and alone at night, is distraught about a failed romance with a woman named Lenore. The man hears a "rapping" outside and it turns out to be a raven, who flies inside and sits upon its perch--a bust of Pallas. The man begins a conversation with the bird, who answers each time with "Evermore." The man soon comes to believe that the bird is an omen of even greater misfortune, with a message to deliver. The bird remains on its perch, and the man cannot decide whether the bird is a "prophet," "devil" or "fiend."

When:  A "bleak December" evening, sometime after midnight in the early-to-mid-1800s.

Where:  At the home of the narrator in an unnamed location.

Why:  There are many "why's" left unanswered: Why does the man believe the bird is speaking to him? Why does he believe the bird has some special purpose or meaning? Poe himself called it the "human thirst for self-torture."  

Approved by eNotes Editorial