What Is the Resolution of the Narrative Poem "The Raven"?
Edgar Allan Poe crafts a tale of desolation and longing in his narrative poem "The Raven." Narrative poems read like stories, and contain a beginning, middle and end. Although "The Raven" is poetry, the elements of a short story apply to this narrative. Without studying the poem as a whole and looking at the characterization and symbols that the author has created, the resolution would not mean much. Analyzing the elements of the narrative lead the reader to understand the very stark resolution for the speaker of the poem.
To understand the resolution of the poem and what leads the speaker to the final outcome, the reader must analyze the speaker's words and actions to get a sense of who he is. The speaker is nervous, and the raven knocks at his door at midnight. He says it "filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before." He has recently lost the love of his life, Lenore, and as he sits up that night, he imagines someone talking back to him at his door by saying "And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, 'Lenore?'" He is losing his grip on reality. The speaker continues to hear knocking, and finally the raven comes in and they have a conversation. Eventually, the speaker grows angry with the bird because he is not getting a satisfactory answer to the question of whether he will find peace. He shouts, "Leave my loneliness unbroken! -- quit the bust above my door!" The shift from fear to anger says a lot about the speaker.
Several symbols contribute to this narrative, and they can be analyzed to form a clear understanding of how it is resolved. The raven itself, a black beady-eyed bird, represents death, and the fact that he will not leave the speaker alone contributes to the desolation. A raven is also seen in Greek mythology as a messenger. Unfortunately, the message this raven sends is of continued sorrow. The bust of Pallas is an allusion to the goddess of wisdom and enlightenment. By using this "character," Poe is saying that the sorrow will never leave, that the "enlightenment" of the narrative is that the speaker will continue to feel the pain of loss.
Elements of Plot
The elements of a story can easily be applied to this narrative poem, and can be easily understood as an arc. The exposition, or unfolding of characters and action, is found at the bottom of the arc where we find the speaker nodding off in his chair; he starts hearing knocking at the door. The arc climbs with the rising action, or events leading up to the climax. In this narrative, they include the speaker realizing there is a raven at his door, the fact that the raven comes to sit on the bust of Pallas, and the conversation between bird and man. The bird continues to answer "Nevermore" to the speaker's questions. The climax, or turning point in the story, is found at the top of the arc. It is found in the third to last stanza when the speaker asks the bird if he will ever see his beloved Lenore again. The bird replies, "Nevermore." After this bad news, the falling action occurs. This involves the speaker shouting and throwing the bird out.
Understanding the entire arc gives the resolution more impact. The final stanza of the poem shows the resolution. Poe writes, "And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting /And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor/Shall be lifted -- nevermore!" This implies that the speaker will never recover from his sorrow, that the "raven" will never leave him, and that the speaker's soul will never be happy again. Arthur Hobson Quinn, Poe biographer, wrote, "In one sense, therefore, the poet was describing an emotional creation which had become objective to him, and the vivid reality of the poem is a consequence." Rather than a happy, Disney ending, the resolution is "sad ever after" for the speaker.
Kathryne Bradesca has been a writing teacher for more than 15 years. She has also contributed to newspapers and magazines such as "The Morning Journal" and "The Ignatius Quarterly." Bradesca received a master's degree in teaching from Kent State University.