Study Guide

The Raven Themes

By Edgar Allan Poe

  • Madness

    The speaker of "The Raven" sounds like he's had a rough life, and most people would probably be a little shaken up to find themselves talking to a bird. Still, we think it's entirely possible that he's insane, or at least pretty far down that road. He talks a lot about wild dreams, imaginary perfume, his burning soul, etc. Of course, the possibility that he's headed around the bend raises some other questions. Is this bird really talking? Is there a bird at all? Is this just a kind of fever-dream? We'll hold off on those questions for now, but keep them in mind.

    Questions About Madness

    1. Do you think the speaker is insane? We know we've suggested this possibility, but do you see it in the poem? Where? Is there another explanation for his behavior?
    2. Is there a growing sense of insanity as this poem builds to its climax? What might give you that idea?
    3. Does this poem make you feel a little crazy?
    4. Is it possible that the speaker is making up or imagining some of the weird events in this poem?

    Chew on This

    Although it describes an interaction with a talking raven, this poem is about the descent into insanity. It carefully tracks the steps from a state of nervousness to total psychological breakdown.

  • Love

    The speaker in "The Raven" loves a woman named Lenore. That's part of the nice balance of this poem. At times it's almost campy and over-the-top, with all the elaborate rhyming and fancy vocabulary. At its heart though, the poem is about a man who only wants one thing in the world: to be back with the woman he loves. Sadly, that's the one thing he absolutely can't have. This is a pretty depressing look at love; and, while Poe never even uses the word directly, love still pervades this poem.

    Questions About Love

    1. Where does one draw the line between love and obsession? Can they exist at the same time? How would you describe the speaker's feelings for Lenore?
    2. Do you find his love for Lenore touching? Or maybe a little cheesy?
    3. Is there any way to know who exactly Lenore was, or what her relationship with the speaker was like? A wife, a girlfriend, a relative, just someone he knew?
    4. Do you see any point where in this poem where love is not tainted by grief?

    Chew on This

    In this poem, the speaker talks about his lost love, but he is really consumed by his own sadness and his strange psychological obsession. The idea of love is buried under his self-involvement.

  • Man and the Natural World

    Many of the scary things our speaker faces on this crazy night have to do with the natural world. He imagines hostile natural forces all around him, surrounding his peaceful, civilized room, just waiting to break in. The dark night, the sound of the wind…they are all threatening and unfathomable. Then nature does break in, in the form of that arrogant, talkative bird. This is the big central confrontation of the poem, and it brings the idea of a conflict between man and nature right to the front.

    Questions About Man and the Natural World

    1. Do you think the Raven pushes our speaker over the edge, or does he do it to himself? Is nature torturing him, or his own mind?
    2. Why do you think a raven was for Poe a useful symbol? What if, instead, the ghost of Lenore had showed up?
    3. How does Poe represent the spooky side of nature? Why is that so important for this poem?
    4. Is there anything really scary about the natural world in this poem, or does the speaker create all the terror in his mind?

    Chew on This

    The raven and the rest of the natural world don't want to hurt or destroy the narrator at all. In fact, it is only his growing madness that makes the raven appear evil.

  • The Supernatural

    Once you've read "The Raven" through, you're probably pretty used to the idea of a talking bird. But step back from that for a second, and think about it. If we heard a bird talk, we'd probably run screaming from the room. At the very least, we think it qualifies as pretty darn supernatural. The speaker thinks a lot about where this bird came from, whether it's some kind of demon, or maybe even a prophet. He also ponders deep issues, such as the afterlife and the existence of God.

    Questions About The Supernatural

    1. Do you think religion plays an important role in this poem? If so, where do you see the evidence?
    2. The speaker half-suspects the Raven is an evil spirit. Does this seem reasonable to you? What evidence can you muster for or against this theory?
    3. Does the talking Raven actually seem supernatural to you? Is it possible that there is nothing going on here that can't be explained in a scientific manner?
    4. Does it seem like the idea of heaven provides any lasting hope in this poem?

    Chew on This

    The poem carefully closes down any possibility for salvation, hope or happiness. The supernatural elements of this poem are purely evil and malevolent.