When we begin reading anything, it is perfectly natural to dive in trusting the narrator so that we quickly become absorbed into the story and are ready to go along for the ride. What happens when a reader begins to question that trust? Can we still find pleasure or value in the text if we start to wonder whether or not the narrator is reliable? Is honesty part of what makes literature work? And if it is, how do we define honesty? Maybe our narrator is honestly sharing his perception of what is going on but maybe his perception is skewed. Maybe his behavior begins to make us wonder if he is telling us what is actually going on or telling us what is going on inside his head. Maybe we don’t know what to believe. Maybe we start to question everything.
Plenty of spooky literature has an air of insanity that plays into its “creep factor.” At times, The Raven feels like it raises more psychological questions that an AP Psychology exam. Is Poe just going for a creepy vibe or is he revealing something to us about the speaker? And if the speaker is insane, then how do we go about taking in the tale? Perhaps we reason that this lovesick guy went bonkers when he lost the love of his life and nothing more. It’s all simply the vision of a madman. Or maybe the poem is actually about a talking evil bird that comes to torture the poor, lovesick guy until he literally loses his mind. Just like anything, the poem is open to interpretation.
Whether it’s simply for ones own enjoyment of a work or for a well thought out AP English Literature essay, considering the point of view of the narrator is imperative to interpreting any work of literature.