How to Write a University Essay (Practical Example)
Here is a practical example of a strong undergraduate degree essay from an English literature student from a top UK university.
Provide a critical appreciation of ‘The Raven’ and explain the text in your understanding of the Gothic genre.
In his poem ‘The Raven’, Poe underscores a gothic conflict between good and evil through Lenore (possibly the persona’s dead lover) and the raven. Poe associates Lenore with goodness and holiness by describing her in terms of light and radiance, whereas the raven is closely associated with evil and hell as it is described in terms of darkness. The conflict between good and evil essentially evolves around the persona, but with the entrance of the raven, the persona is trapped and cornered by the associate of the evil in his comfortable and luxurious home. Poe creates a sense of claustrophobia and extends this idea that to some extent, the persona’s home is essentially his coffin in which he is spiritually buried as in the end, the persona accepts their defeat to the raven and potentially evil. Poe extends this idea further as he explains that the persona has accepted their defeat to the raven when he rests his head on a purple silk cushion with a lamplight gloating over his head; wholly suggesting the persona’s spiritual death and moral defeat. Poe also gives ‘The Raven’ a very hypnotic and dream-like rhythm through a trochaic meter, which effectively suggests persona’s lack of psychological resistance to evil and is prophetic of his eventual defeat by the evil force.
Poe introduces the gothic element of conflict between good and evil when the persona opens his door and instead of finding anything, only steers “into deep darkness” and soon breaks the silence by enquiring for “Lenore”. Poe makes an imaginative use of gothic imagery of light and darkness, when the persona opens the door at the tapping he only sees darkness, which to the audience is nothing, but Poe is trying to accentuate that only malevolence and wickedness enter the persona’s life and “nothing more”. Yet, the persona attempts to counter the evil by enquiring for his lover Lenore. Poe portrays Lenore as a heavenly and pure spirit that is closely associated with Poe’s use of light imagery. To some extent, Poe also alludes to the Victorian idea of woman being an ‘angel in the house’ and but the lack of presence of a woman to comfort the frightened and desolate persona arguably overthrows the Victorian notion of woman being bound to a man and the house. Interestingly, Poe adopts a very brooding setting and atmosphere that is devoid of light and comfort. Poe explains that the amber is “dying” and the purple curtains “are rustling”, which is metaphorical to persona’s lack of light and goodness in his life; instead darkness and its associations of evil takeover the light and to certain extent represent the departure of the persona’s life.
As follows, Poe incorporates the gothic element of a helpless victim and a pursuer, the persona is portrayed as a victim who is trapped inside his claustrophobic surroundings of his home and is finally cornered by a black raven, a symbol of evil. At the encounter of the black raven the persona attempts to scare the raven away but the raven just repeats the phrase “nevermore”, and when the persona attempts to comfort his psychological instability and counter the evil sensation of the raven, he recalls the “radiant maiden” whom the “angels name Lenore”. In this, it is obvious that the persona tries to seek spiritual comfort from a holy spirit, but is only left in despair of evil as the raven just repeats “nevermore”. In effect, the persona appears to have lost his courage to fight the evil spirit of the raven as he only places his head on “the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamplight gloated”. This in effect conjures a gothic image of death, as the purple silk is associated with decay and luxury and to a great degree conjures an image of the inside of a coffin, whereas silk is associated with smoothness and comfort and thus helps to promote the idea that at least the persona is safe in his metaphorical coffin. The glowing light over the persona’s head may be symbolic to the escape of the persona’s spirit into the heaven to meet his longed “Lenore”. However, this view is countered when the raven obliterates the “light” and throws “his shadow on the floor” which in effect helps to illuminate evil’s triumph over goodness and holiness, which results in a moral and psychological defeat to the persona as he exclaims in despair that his soul “Shall be lifted-Nevermore”.
The entire poem is written in a trochaic meter which helps to give it a dream-like and a hypnotizing quality that suggests the persona’s spiritual inability to resist evil. The moment the persona opens the door and finds only darkness, he is propelled into a state of “doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream”. This effectively suggests that the evil power of darkness and despair disturbs the persona’s mental stability as he is no longer able to explain the events around him rationally with his attempt to make everything around him unimportant and “merely this and nothing more”. Poe thus appears to be providing us into an insight into the persona’s psyche and the raven may be a mere representation of a dark secret harboured within the persona that he is no longer able to retain. The air suddenly grows “denser” which may suggest the persona’s inability to harbour their secret in their subconscious. According to Goya, internalizing of baser desires and always allowing rationality to triumph over fantasy produces a monster within a person that is eventually released with terrible ramifications. Extending this view to the poem, the raven can thus be a monster produced as a result of the persona’s internalised desires that destroys him, perhaps the persona’s continual questioning for the female Lenore suggests that the male persona is haunted by his dead lover Leone, perhaps because he maltreated or even murdered her. Yet, in the end, the persona’s quest for goodness and angels is only filled with evil and despair, which in a metaphorical sense marks persona’s death.
In conclusion, Poe closely adheres to the gothic genre by incorporating the conflict between goodness and evil revolving around the persona. Poe makes excessive use of imagery associated with light and darkness which helps to illustrate the conflict between good and evil. Yet, at the same time, Poe also explores the gothic element of a helpless victim being pursued by the supernatural. Yet, the most probably, masculine persona is entrapped and cornered by the ebony raven in his brooding home. Eventually, the home is devoid of light and warmth as it becomes the persona’s coffin as he is spiritually defeated by the demon embodied in a raven. Poe makes use of aesthetic imagery of silk and associations of black and purple colour to create a sense of decay and death, which suggests that the persona’s home has become his funeral parlour. This spontaneously unveils the gothic element of death. Although, Poe represents the persona’s metaphorical death through his psychological imbalance which is revealed to the reader through the dream-like and hypnotizing rhythm created by the trochaic meter.