Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" employs a raven itself as a symbol of the torture, mainly the self-inflicted torture, of the narrator over his lost love, Lenore.
The raven, it can be argued, is possibly a figment of the imagination of the narrator, obviously distraught over the death of Lenore. The narrator claims in the first stanza that he is weak and weary (731). He is almost napping as he hears the rapping at the door, which could quite possibly make the sound something he heard in a near dream-like state, not an actual sound.
He is terrified of being alone in the chamber he is in when the poem takes place. The "sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain thrilled me-filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before" (731). When the poem opens, he is reading over books of "forgotten lore" (731). His imagination is probably already running wild. His surroundings are conducive to the situation he finds himself in. The word "chamber" itself implies a cold, rigid feel, like the narrator has shut himself away from everything in order to be alone to brood and torture himself.
The words "ghost" and "dying ember" give the reader a feeling of discomfort, like something is not quite right with the situation. The narrator opens the chamber door into darkness, deep darkness, and silence. He stands there, fearing what is before him, "dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before" (732). December is also the time of year when most plants are dead, to which extent the narrator remarks that it is a "bleak December", making for a dismal scene both outside and inside the chamber. There is also a "tempest", a storm, brewing outside, not good for calming the spirits of the narrator.
Thoughts are running through his head and it is safe to say that he is frightening himself more than the situation merits at this point. He says he has to still the beating of his heart by repeating outside the door, "'Tis...