Poe's unnamed narrator is a scholar mourning the death of his beloved, Lenore. He is alone in his house on a cold December midnight, trying to distract himself from thinking about her by reading old books. The narrator is a student, educated and sensible, but his logic and knowledge do little to help him recover from the impact of Lenore's death or to escape the desperate hope of seeing her again.
His desperation drives him to emotional extremes, from depression to near euphoria and finally to depression after the raven announces that he and Lenore will be separated forever. It is never made clear whether the supernatural raven visits him and drives him to utter despair, or whether his own obsessive doubts lead him to imagine the raven, but in either case, the raven destroys the narrator's rational mind.
There is little direct information about the narrator of "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe. Because the poem unfolds from his perspective, the speaker's character emerges through unintentional details. It is clear from the beginning that this is some kind of scholar. In "The Philosophy of Composition," Poe calls him "a student," which suggests his age but does not fully clarify his aspirations. In the second line of the poem, he reflects on "a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore."
The bust of Pallas - that piece of professorial decor - additionally completes the image of the speaker as a seeker of knowledge. While the speaker's class is never stated, the manner of his speech and the opulence of his purple-draped chambers suggests that he is of aristocratic or at least wealthy birth.
The narrator is "weak and weary" from the very start. As soon as it becomes clear, his central source of conflict and pain is the loss of his love, Lenore. His misery for her moves the story of the poem.
When the eponymous raven comes and begins to speak its refrain - the word "Nevermore," - the narrator projects his obsessional grief onto the raven. The narrator takes the bird's word as insight, a wisdom. So when he asks a series of questions about the death of his beloved, the constant answer "Nevermore'' fills him with dread. Will he ever forget his sorrow? Is there any consolation? Will he ever see the lost beloved Lenore again? Nevermore!
The raven is a bird that enters the narrator's house, while the narrator is mourning his lost love in the middle of the night, and lands on the narrator's bust of Pallas. To everything the narrator says, Raven answers with only one word: "Nevermore". The bird does not act in any other way, nor does it attack the narrator or seem to wish him harm, but the narrator sees it as supernatural at best and demonic at worst.
Furthermore, the narrator interprets Raven's repetition of "Nevermore" as a rejection of all his wishes to be reunited with Lenore. At the end of the poem, the narrator notes that the Raven is still sitting atop Palasa's bust and will likely remain there forever, spending the rest of his life under its evil influence. It is unclear whether the Raven is a supernatural being or a product of the narrator's imagination, and in this way, the poem creates a connection, typical of Gothic literature, between the subconscious and the supernatural.
Edgar Allan Poe chose the character of the raven to satisfy several formal guidelines he set for the poem. As he describes in his essay "The Philosophy of Composition," Poe first decided to aim for a melancholic tone and use the refrain "Nevermore." The raven's conceit gives reason for the one-word chorus, and the raven is, as Poe puts it, "a bird of ill omen" suitable for a sad song.
The narrator sees the bird through the eyes of his grief. So he responds to the bird's terrifying appearance and chorus by viewing it as a "prophet," "a thing of evil," and a "devil" from the "Night Shore of Pluto." The poem never directly denies the speaker's intuition, but careful readers will note that the speaker's depiction of the raven is tinged with emotion. At the most basic level, a raven is simply a raven croaking a single word it knows, oblivious to the state of the speaker.
Poe considers the raven "a being that thinks not," but the question of reasoning is less critical than the question of care. The raven, as the speaker admits at the beginning, is apathetic toward the speaker. "Nevermore" means nothing, even though the speaker begins to believe otherwise.
Critics believe that Lenore, the narrator's lost love, is a representation of Poe's own deceased wife, Virginia. Although Lenore never physically appears in the poem and nothing is known about her except of her status as the speaker’s beloved, her existence dominates over the text, as the speaker cannot help but mourn her death and wonder if he will be able to see her again.
Lenore is less a character than a living memory in the speaker's mind. Poe chose the character of Lenore for formal reasons, just as he did in the case of the raven. Wanting to achieve a particularly melancholic effect, Poe chose a deceased woman as his subject. As he says in his essay "Philosophy of Composition", "the death of a beautiful woman is, therefore, undoubtedly the most poetic subject in the world." Lenore's name rhymes with the chorus of "Nevermore," allowing the two words to intertwine throughout the song.
The speaker several times refers to her as "a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels call Lenore." At one point he even called her a "saint". The Lenore that appears is not a human being but the speaker's magnificently idealized figure of purity and perfection. Poe may have made Lenore an abstract figure so that readers would have room to fill in their own details and thus experience her loss more tragically.