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Hyperbole in The Raven

Instructor: Christina Boggs

Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.

Hyperbole is a common literary devices that authors use to add emphasis to their writing. Edgar Allen Poe, author of 'The Raven' is no exception! This lesson explores and explains the use of hyperbole in 'The Raven'.

Hyperbole

In English class, you study a number of different literary devices. You're probably familiar with personification (giving human qualities to nonhuman things) and imagery (engaging all five senses with words), but how about hyperbole? Before you learn what it is, it's important to know how to say it! While it looks like it should be pronounced 'hyper-bowl', it's actually pronounced 'hi-per-bow-lee'.

In poetry (and literature), a hyperbole is an exaggerated claim or statement. Hyperbolic language is not meant to be taken literally, so why do poets use it? Well, for starters it's a good way to emphasize certain points or ideas. It's also used to make writing funnier to the reader.

'The Raven'

Edgar Allen Poe uses hyperbole throughout 'The Raven' to add emphasis to how the narrator feels about losing his love (Lenore). It's also used to highlight how the narrator views the Raven.

When we first meet the narrator, he's home alone, pining over Lenore. He hears a knocking sound at the door and immediately assumes that it's a person who's come to visit. When he opens the door, no one is there and his imagination begins to race as he looks into the dark night:

'Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before...'

The narrator clearly has no way of knowing whether his mind is the only one to have dreamed what he's dreaming. After all, there are billions of people on the planet...odds are, there are a least a handful of other people who have thought what he's thinking!

After closing his door, the narrator hears another noise. This time, he opens his window, accidentally letting in a raven. He describes the bird as, 'Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the nightly shore--'. Later in the poem, he uses similar hyperbole; 'What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore...'

If you've ever seen a raven then you know it's just a large black bird. The use of words like 'ghastly', 'grim', 'ancient', and 'ominous' are exaggerated descriptions of the Raven's actual appearance. They're used to reflect not only how the narrator physically sees the Raven, but what the Raven's presence means to him.

The narrator begins to ask the Raven questions about his life, his future, his lost love. The Raven sits and observes, only croaking a single word, 'Nevermore'. The narrator views this word as extremely important:

'But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust spoke only / That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.'

As a reader, you know that the Raven is not actually talking to the narrator, and the bird is certainly not pouring his entire soul 'into that one word.' This use of hyperbole is meant to show the reader how significant the Raven's input (or really lack of input) meant to the narrator.

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