The poem follows the unnamed speaker as he succumbs to his grief over the loss of his love, Lenore. Even before the raven appears, the speaker is “weak and weary,” presumably from the strain of grief. His worn-out state makes him restless and uneasy, which is clear when he has to remind himself that the knock at his door is probably from a visitor and not anything more sinister. Nevertheless, in the first few stanzas, the speaker appears relatively in control of his emotions, despite signs that his nerves are fraying. When he initially sees the raven, he acts amused, asking it its name in comically dramatic, lofty terms. Even after it first states its ominous refrain, the speaker rationalizes the bird’s behavior instead of succumbing to panic or despair.
Stanza 13 marks a turning point for the speaker’s mental state because the word “nevermore” reminds him that he will never see Lenore again. He tries to force himself to forget Lenore, but then, in Stanza 15, he begins addressing the raven with pointed questions about her, as if begging the bird to give him some hope that his grief will end. As far as the speaker knows, the bird can only say, “Nevermore.” Thus, these questions represent the speaker projecting his own hopelessness onto the raven, forcing it to remind him that he will never see Lenore again and never be able to forget her. The speaker is not really asking the bird for answers so much as torturing himself with its refrain. That he then lashes out at the bird for providing the answer he knows it will give shows how fragile his mental state has become. The poem ends with the speaker defeated by grief, which he depicts by describing the raven’s shadow hanging over his soul.