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Teaching Guide: Exploring “The Raven”

This teaching guide helps instructors use a specific primary source set, "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe, in the classroom. It offers discussion questions, classroom activities, and primary source analysis tools. It is intended to spark pedagogical creativity by giving a sample approach to the material. Please feel free to share, reuse, and adapt the resources in this guide for your teaching purposes.

Discussion questions

  1. Examine the two portraits of Poe. How does each portrait characterize Poe as an artist within Gothic literature/Dark Romanticism? Cite specific evidence from the portraits to support your ideas.
  2. After reading the letters from Washington Irving and Nathaniel Hawthorne, describe their relationships to Poe. If you have read additional works by these authors, how do Poe’s themes and subjects compare/contrast with theirs? Do you see their influence in “The Raven”?
  3. Closely examine the Manet illustration and the 1883 book cover. Which themes and ideas from “The Raven” do they capture? How do they depict the relationship between the poem’s speaker and the raven? How do they describe the setting? Any details that surprise you based on your own interpretation of the poem?
  4. According to Poe’s essay, “The Philosophy of Composition,” what were Poe’s primary considerations and motivations for writing “The Raven?” What questions does the essay raise for you as a reader of the poem? What does it tell us about the way poetry was discussed in Poe’s time?
  5. Read the two parodies of “The Raven”: “The Parrot” and “The Dove.” These are only two of the many parodies that have been made of “The Raven.” What commentary do they provide on the original poem? What does the degree to which it has been parodied tell us about “The Raven”?
  6. Examine the 1848 book review from The Southern Quarterly Review. What is the author’s assessment of Poe and “The Raven”? With which points do you agree/disagree?
  7. Read Poe’s poem, “Lenore.” Compare the role of Lenore in “The Raven” with the subject of “Lenore.”
  8. How does the 1956 political cartoon use “The Raven” as a metaphor? What does “The Raven” represent?

Classroom activities

Ask students to write a letter to the editor in response to either Poe’s essay, “The Philosophy of Composition,” or the 1848 book review. Use the following questions to guide the letter writing:

  • What, in your opinion, are the most compelling and/or troubling things about the poem?
  • To what extent do you agree with the author?
  • Where does he get it wrong?
  • What ideas about “The Raven” would you like to have seen him address?
  • What questions do you have after reading his piece?

Students can also stage this activity as a debate in which they take positions for and against the review in The Southern Quarterly Review.

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