Discussion Topic

The use of imagery in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" to create an eerie and gloomy atmosphere


In "The Raven," Edgar Allan Poe uses imagery to create an eerie and gloomy atmosphere. Descriptions such as the "midnight dreary," the "silken, sad, uncertain rustling," and the dark, foreboding presence of the raven itself all contribute to the haunting mood of the poem, enhancing the sense of melancholy and dread experienced by the narrator.

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What is the dominant image in Poe's "The Raven" and how does it contribute to the eerie tone?

The primary image in "The Raven" is the picture of the raven sitting above the bust of Pallas above the speaker's "chamber door." Through this image and other diction choices associated with it, Poe creates an ominous mood in his poem.

Ravens are associated with death because they are scavengers, often feasting on carrion. A black bird, like a black cat, can be considered an omen of bad luck. In the Bible, birds often symbolize evil; for example, in Jesus' parable of the sower, the birds come and steal the seed of the gospel so it cannot produce salvation. In that case, birds represent demons or the devil. Having the unpleasant bird sit above a bust of Pallas, the goddess of wisdom, is even eerier because it gives the omen gravitas. If one sees the raven in the same frame as the symbol of wisdom, it implies that what the raven represents is true. The bird's position elevates its import; since it is above the speaker, it takes on more authority, and the speaker seems subjected to it.

Poe builds on this powerful image by associating it with words and phrases that add to the dark and disturbing tone. It comes from the "night's Plutonian shore," or the Underworld. The speaker imagines a doleful backstory for the creature: "unmerciful Disaster followed fast and followed faster." Other word choices that create a depressed and/or eerie mood include "ominous," "dirges," "melancholy burden," "desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted," "demon's," and "devil."

Using a powerful image with an unmistakably ominous connotation and unforgettable diction, Poe crafts a story in verse that is hauntingly dark.

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Which images in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" create a gloomy atmosphere?

The first image that leads to the gloomy atmosphere of the poem appears in the first line, where the speaker describes a “midnight dreary.”  Both words evoke gloom.  Even the words “many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore” are kind of creepy and make you think of a spooky story.

Referring to the room as a “chamber” adds to the spooky atmosphere.  The word just sounds so much gloomier than some simple word like “room.”  The images continue as the speaker says it’s a “bleak December” because bleak is a gloomy word and December is a cold, dead, winter month.  Consider these lines from the second stanza.

And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; - vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow - sorrow for the lost Lenore (stanza 2)

Even before the Raven really appears (and a raven is a gloomy bird), there is plenty of gloom and doom as a lonely student sits up mourning a lost love.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
`Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,' I said, `art sure no craven.
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the nightly shore – (stanza 8)

When the bird appears, more gloomy images come with it.  The word “ebony” and the black bird make you think of gloom.  Words like “grave” and “grim” do as well.

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