The Raven Discussion Questions

Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Business English and Speech for nine years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

Poe's ''The Raven'' has spoken to people of all walks of life since its publishing. This lesson outlines reflective discussion questions to use in a classroom to assess student comprehension.

The Raven

Imagine losing the one person you love more than anyone else in life. How would this affect your mental state? Can you imagine losing your grasp on reality? This is exactly what happens in Edgar Allen Poe's most famous poem.

The Raven was written and published in 1845 and has become one of the most recognized poems of all time. This eerie narrative tells the tale of a man agonizing over his lost love. Sounds like a simple enough concept for your students to understand, but there are many intricacies in this poem that might cause confusion.

In order to properly clarify and to assess your students' comprehension, use the questions in this lesson for thought-provoking discussion you can use in your classroom.

Questions on Setting

Let's begin by looking at questions that focus on the setting, or the time, place and social situation of a story. Setting is often critical in stories, and since this is a narrative poem, which tells a story in verse form, it plays a significant role in the piece.

Time and place are often the only concepts covered when discussing setting. However, the social situation is often the most impactful piece. If the narrator had not been in such a state of depression over Lenore's death, could any of the actions have occurred? Questions that guide students to the time, place and social situation are all needed to gain a complete understanding of the tale.

With all of this in mind, here are some discussion questions you can pose to your class centered on the setting of The Raven.

  • Upon what does the raven perch? What is the deeper meaning of that statue? How does it relate to the raven?
  • How would you describe the atmosphere of the chamber before the raven enters? Why?
  • How would you describe the atmosphere of the chamber after the raven enters? What has changed? Why?
  • What time of day is it when the narrator first hears the tapping? What time of year is it? Do either of these have a symbolic meaning? How does that relate to the events of the poem?
  • What significant event in the narrator's life has occurred before the events in this poem happen? How has it affected him?

Note how these questions require a more open-ended type of answer. The bust of Pallas, the tapping at midnight on a dreary December evening, the startling calmness of the room that is disturbed by a talking raven, all are aspects of setting that have a major impact on the mood, tone, and even the actions of the narrator.

Questions on Plot

Next, we can look at discussion questions focused on the plot, which is the series of events in a story. Since this is a narrative poem, the actions, dialogue and movements of the characters are essential for your students to understand. Here are some questions you can pose to your class as a check for comprehension in terms of plot.

  • What noise sets off the bizarre events of the poem? What does the narrator tell himself it is? Why do you think he does? Have you ever experienced a similar situation?
  • Describe how the narrator first opens his chamber door. What happens next? What do you think that means?
  • After he finds there is no one at the door, what is the next thing he checks for the source of the tapping?
  • What is the narrator's first question to the raven? The response? What does the narrator think this means at first? Does this make sense or is the narrator simply in denial?
  • Does the narrator have a rational reaction to this strange bird in his room? Why doesn't he try to catch it and take it back outside? What does he do instead?
  • What is the narrator's rationalization about why the bird only says 'Nevermore'? What makes him think of Lenore? Is that connected to the raven somehow?
  • The narrator asks the raven a question involving Lenore. What is it? When the raven responds Nevermore, what does the narrator try to do to the raven? Does it work?

Use plot discussion questions like these to guide your students into understanding all of the actions and their importance in the poem.

Questions on Characters

Last, you can use discussion questions centered on character, which is a person, animal, or object that drives the action of a story. In The Raven, there are very few characters (the narrator, the raven and Lenore), one of which we never even see.

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