There are three primary symbols in “The Raven”: the raven, the bust of Pallas, and the speaker’s chamber. All of these symbols work together to form a portrait of the speaker’s grief.
The titular raven represents the speaker’s unending grief over the loss of Lenore. Ravens traditionally carry a connotation of death, as the speaker himself notes when he refers to the bird as coming from “Night’s Plutonian shore,” or the underworld. The raven’s constant refrain of “nevermore” reminds the speaker of the finality of Lenore’s absence, that he will never see her again in this life or the next, and the impossibility of forgetting her. Therefore, the primary action of the poem—the raven interrupting the speaker’s seclusion—symbolizes how the speaker’s grief intrudes upon his every thought. At the end, when the speaker describes the raven’s shadow as hanging over his soul, he refers to the way his grief clouds his very existence.
“Pallas” refers to the Greek goddess of wisdom, Pallas Athena. The bust of Pallas that the raven perches upon represents sanity, wisdom, and scholarship. When the raven perches upon this statue of Athena, it visually represents the way the speaker’s rationality is threatened by the raven’s message. The bird’s refusal to move from the statue to either leave the chamber entirely or perch anywhere else in the room further demonstrates how the speaker’s grief is immovable and gradually blocking his rational thought.
The chamber is the setting of this poem, and it symbolizes the speaker’s attempt to shut himself away from his grief. Although he’s not entirely successful at reading to distract himself from thoughts of Lenore, it is not until he opens the door to check on the knocking that he actively allows himself to pursue thoughts of her. In this light, the raven entering his chamber symbolizes the way grief has invaded the speaker’s life. Even his solitary chamber is not impenetrable or secure against the madness that results from the loss of his beloved.
Buy The Raven from Barnes & Noble.