September 30, 2004

Choice of dialogue with Raven

The raven in Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” is an ambiguous symbol. When the raven first appears, it is described as “…a stately raven” making “Not the least obeisance…” It sits impassively upon a bust of Pallas, watching the narrator who breaks the silence by initiating a dialogue with the bird.
Initially, the narrator is amused with the bird, he speaks of it “…beguiling my sad fancy into smiling…” He quickly figures out that the bird only speaks one word: “Nevermore,” which at first he thinks: “Though its answer little meaning – little relevancy bore….” The word becomes relevant only because of the questions and remarks he puts to the bird, for which he already knows the answer.
The raven could be interpreted as a …”thing of evil” come to torment the narrator or a metaphor for the dark depression and pessimism that he feels he cannot or chooses not to escape. The raven represents permanent suffering and loss of hope.
Again the dialogue is completely under the narrator’s control, (Remember, we can choose our reactions to events). He works himself into a passion calling the bird "fiend" but it is his own mind that keeps him mired in sorrow, not the bird. He could just as easily ask, Will you stay with me? And the raven would say: “Nevermore and maybe fly away!

A word about nepenthe…I noticed this word in Scarlett Letter as well: "I know not Lethe nor Nepenthe," remarked he; (Chillingworth to Hester in the prison)
At first I thought it was a reference by Poe to his own reputed drug habit: “Respite-respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore; Quaff oh, quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”
Not according to the Edgar Allen Poe Society, they state: “Poe's use of drugs is, for the most part, purely a literary device. For some of Poe's more fantastic storylines, his narrators admit the use of opium, but one should carefully note that it is Poe's narrators who use drugs, not Poe himself.”
Anyway, nepenthe is an alteration of Latin “nepenthes” meaning “not grief”. It is a potion used to induce forgetfulness of pain or sorrow and cause oblivion of grief. It’s been used in literature since before the 16th century, also mentioned in Homer’s “Odyssey”.
Thought it was kind of interesting.

Posted by LindaFondrk at September 30, 2004 06:34 PM


I love your comments on the dialogue between the raven and the narrator. I am currently analyzing the poem with Mikhail Bakhtin's approach to dialogue. With this approach there has to be a speaker and a listener, but I find myself categorizing the narrator as both. I see the raven as a tool through which the narrator passes his dialogue to achieve his own outcome in the dialogue...with himself. Is this confusing? If you have any feedback, I would appreciate it.

I really enjoyed the commentary.

Posted by: steven at October 15, 2004 09:44 PM
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