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A Psychoanalytic Approach to Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”

[The Portrait of Edgar Allan Poe]. (n.d.).

The gothic themes in Poe’s short stories, as in the instances of The Masque of the Red Death (1845) and The Fall of the House of Usher (1839), and in his poetry, as in his poems “The Haunted Palace” (1839) and “The Raven” (1845), were inspired by Gothic Fiction (1760s-1820s), which most of its thematic content deals with, “wild and desolate landscapes, dark forests, ruined abbeys, feudal halls and medieval castles with dungeons, secret passages, winding stairways, oubliettes, sliding panels, and torture chambers; monstrous apparitions and curses; a stupefying atmosphere of doom and gloom; heroes and heroines in the direst of imaginable straits, wicked tyrants, malevolent witches, demonic powers of unspeakably hideous aspect, and a proper complement of spooky effects and clanking spectres.” (Dictionary of Literary Terms & Literary Theory, 1999). The Dark Romantic side in the genius of Poe’s tales of the macabre and the grotesque will be the concern of this article, further examined and explored by adopting a thematic and psychoanalytic approach to analyze his famous poem “The Raven” (1845).

Doré, G. (n.d.). [An illustration of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Raven”].

Published on January 29th, 1845, Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Raven” announces an atmosphere of sorrow from the beginning of the first two stanzas, expressed by the narrator through the use of “a midnight dreary” and “the bleak of December” as the narrator is sitting alone, consumed by “a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore” (Poe's "The Raven"). Seemingly, the narrator recalls some recent events that have tormented him, leaving him preoccupied or thoughtful. Words such as “dying ember” and “ghost upon the floor” are symbolic of the theme of death as the narrator, sitting by the fireplace, watching the fire being consumed and unconsciously reflecting his fear of or rather obsession with death, describes Dr. Kelly (2019).

Not only does the narrator express his concern with the matter of death, but he is also affected by the loss of a woman he remembers and apparently with whom he is still in love, given her attributes of “the rare and radiant maiden”. Dr. Kelly (2019) further explains the mechanisms of loss through a Freudian approach, whereby, “unlike mourning, melancholia concerns an “unknown loss” in that the sufferer “knows whom he has lost but not what he has lost in him.” (pp.68). In other words, the narrator is emotionally aware of the loss of his beloved Lenore, but rather unconsciously still in search of the lost object that he had lost in himself, which is the source of his melancholic state of being, overwhelming him with emotional pain to what Dr. Kelly (2019) qualifies as “creeping madness” (pp. 67). The imaginary presence of the delusional yet aesthetic image of his beloved through the narrator’s memories is accompanied by her absence and at the same time confronted by the physical presence of an intruder, personified in the shape of a raven.

Doré, G. (n.d.). [An illustration of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Raven”, depicting the Raven entering the narrator's Chamber].

Ravens have various cultural interpretations in mythology as in the instance of the Nordic Mythology, whereby Odin’s two ravens known as “Huginn and Muninn, whose names mean “thought” and “memory,” respectively” (Sharpe Reference, 2008) reflect the symbolic interpretation of the intrusion of the raven inside the narrator’s space. The Raven that the narrator sees may reflect, on the one hand, “thought” present in his feelings for his beloved Lenore, waiting for any sign of hope to know that, somewhere outside she is still alive and so, the arrival of the Raven may provide him with guidance and good news, which will be denied later in the poem when the Raven tells him “Nevermore”, asserting that the narrator will never see Lenore again. In fact, Payerl (2016) claims that “the raven is a symbol of lost hope, which is interesting since hope could allow the narrator to hold on to some semblance of reality in order to persevere through his sorrow. Without hope, the narrator cannot hold on to reality and, thus, descends into madness” (pp. 13-14). On the other hand, “memory” of his beloved is pointed out by the appearance of the Raven in his chamber; the only place the narrator thought he might not be disturbed or invaded by any human presence yet to which he soon proved to be wrong.

The sudden intrusion of the Raven, described as the “ebony bird” in the poem, is the reflection of grief itself. In these terms, the Raven comes to break this intimate space that the narrator has created to experience his grief and remember his beloved Lenore—the no-longer-existing love object. Such interpretation goes hand in hand with the Freudian-Lacanian notion of the “Das Ding”, which is known as the “Mythical Thing”. For the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, “the Das Ding” or what he also refers to as the lost object lies in the center of the desired object or exists in the depth of desire itself, for it is “attached to whatever is open, lacking, or gaping at the center of our desire.” (Kelly, 2019, pp.68). Thus, the lost object characterized by desire of the other or of the non-existing object—the unknown—is, par excellence, the void, according to Lacan. The Lacanian subject, in this context the narrator, or also referred to as human subjectivity, explains Kelly (2019) is interrelated to the void, in this context the Raven, symbolizing a dark element of nature having supernatural power that of communicating with the narrator and reminding him of his beloved Lenore.

Doré, G. (n.d.). [An illustration of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Raven”, portraying the narrator attempting to chase the Raven away from his Chamber].

In Poe’s poem “The Raven”, reference to what Kelly (2019) refers to as the “ontological void” denotes the search for a meaning to existence, filling the empty parts of the narrator’s subjectivity with the memories of Lenore and reflecting also Poe’s loss of his wife Virginia. The most significant element to be focused on is the figure of the Raven as it can be shaped into Kelly’s reference to Herman Melville’s notion of the “ungraspable phantom” (Kelly, 2019, pp.73). Melville’s “phantom” is illustrated in the Raven as its arrival is preceded by sinister, scary, and vibrant signs announcing the narrator of such unknown presence, through the use of words as “darkness”, “thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before”, “the beating of my heart”, “deep into that darkness”, and “ ’ Tis the wind and nothing more!(Poe's "The Raven"). The gothic ambiance before the arrival of the Raven is made on purpose to pave the way to what is coming next in the poem.

Doré, G. (n.d.). [An illustration of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Raven”, depicting the Raven as a symbol of death].

The Raven is described by the narrator to enter the chamber and immediately flies to be “perched upon a bust of Pallas” (Poe's "The Raven"), which is in reference to “Pallas Athena the Greek goddess of wisdom” (, 2009). In other words, the qualities of wisdom, knowledge, and emotional maturity are attributed to the Raven that come to the rescue of the narrator, reminding him that Lenore is gone forever when the bird tells him “Nevermore”. In this way, the narrator is confronted with the hard reality of Lenore’s death or also with his own death from which he can never escape. The voice of wisdom and order expressed by the Raven comes to ease, but at the same time emotionally destabilize the narrator as he started to converse with the Raven, naming him by the “Prophet” and “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—” while asking about Lenore, hoping to get answers to his inquiries. Yet the only answer the narrator gets is “Nevermore”—the answer of the Raven, repeated many times throughout the poem.

On the whole, Poe’s poem “The Raven” is considered to be intriguing yet fascinating as it deals with the motif of death, loss of a beloved one, and the process of grief, embracing a gothic aspect of existence as an attempt to grasp the meaning of life after loss and confronting reality when being exposed to darkness and the unknown. Furthermore, the narrator failed in constructing a proper ego of his own as he is, unconsciously, in constant search for being united again with his Lenore—symbolizing the motherly/desiring figure, failing to accept her death or failing in some way to accept death embodied by the Raven. Like other writers of his time such as Nathaniel Hawthorne and Mary Shelley, Poe was interested in thrilling and unconventional themes to write about and explore in his literary works, for “his fascination with death and violence, the loss of a beloved, possibilities of reanimation or life beyond the grave in some physical form, and with macabre and tragic mysteries” (, n.d.) are themes that were dealt with at the core of his short stories and poetry.

Image Sources

Doré, G. (n.d.). [An illustration of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Raven”].

Doré, G. (n.d.). [An illustration of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Raven”, depicting the Raven entering the narrator's Chamber].

Doré, G. (n.d.). [An illustration of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Raven”, portraying the narrator attempting to chase the Raven away from his Chamber].

Doré, G. (n.d.). [An illustration of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Raven”, depicting the Raven as a symbol of death].

[The Portrait of Edgar Allan Poe]. (n.d.).

References (2009, September 23). Analysis and Symbolism in The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe. Retrieved November 16, 2021, from

Del Guercio, G. (Ed.). (2019). Staging Nothing: The Figure of Das Ding in Poe’s “The Raven.” In Psychology in Edgar Allan Poe (pp. 67–100). Logos Verlag Berlin. (n.d.). The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe. Retrieved November 15, 2021, from (n.d.). Edgar Allan Poe. Retrieved November 15, 2021, from

Payerl, S. (2016, May). Animals as Projections of the Self in “The Raven ” and “The Black Cat” (No. 2167). Seton Hall University.

Penguin Books. (1999). Gothic novel/fiction. In C. E. Preston (Ed.), Dictionary of Literary Terms & Literary Theory (fourth edition ed., p. 356).

Sharpe Reference. (2011). Ravens and Crows: Mythology. In J. Sherman (Ed.), Storytelling an Encyclopedia of Mythology and Folklore (p.381).


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Neyra Behi

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