Alcohol Induced Flight
Life is filled with adversaries that can cause us grief and sorrow. Not always do we know how to deal with these pains, so we seek outside comforts that we feel can eliminate our soul’s burdens. These things are not always positive influences and though they can provide a false sense of comfort they often end with greater torment. In Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven, a man is tormented by the loss of a love and to deal with it he employs alcohol as a coping mechanism, which we see as the raven, but after the original lull of security wears off he is left with the additional burden of alcoholism.
Trying to surcease his sorrow for his lost love, he attempts to lose himself in forgotten lore but it is not to much avail as the rustling of curtains and shadows on the floor fill him “with fantastic terrors never felt before.” The alcohol first enters his life subtly, startling him from his self consumed state, but is originally ignored as he continues with his absorbed thinking. It continues to demand his attention and he eventually seeks it out, forcing himself to open his doors wide to it only to be left staring into the abyss of his life to see “darkness there and nothing more.” As it continues to make its present known to him, although hesitating, he lets alcohol in, “to still the beating of (his) heart,” and upon first fancy takes pleasure in it and it beguiles his sad “fancy into smiling.” It is able to bring him some pleasure when before he had none. He worries, that like any hope he has had before, that the comfort that it brings him will leave in the morning but is temporarily relieved to hear that it will leave him “nevermore.”
Alcohol is his nepenthe, his healing potion that rids him of his sorrow and makes his “head at ease.” He sees it as God sent; “Thy god hath lent thee.” Reveling in the relief that the alcohol has brought him, he draws himself closer to it but in doing so is reminded of why he is taking comfort in it in the first place, to find comfort for his grief for the lost. He tries to find in the alcohol a deeper consolation than the superficial relief it has provided so far but learns that the response from it is singular. No matter which approach he takes with it, it is still only able to emit the same response. It is because of this that as time progresses the original comfort it gave him becomes less and his dissatisfaction with it increases.
The relief that he had found in it is not permanent and his memories of his sorrows, temporarily suppressed, floods back to him and he starts to realize it’s negative value, now relating it to a “thing of evil.” He realizes that it is the product of an
“Unhappy master whom unmerciful disaster (will)
follow fast and follow faster till his songs one burden bore– till the dirges
of his hope that melancholy burden bore.”
Knowing now that it cannot eliminate his pain or block the questions his mind torments him by asking about the unknown, he wishes that he had not partaken of it and that he had just remained with his “loneliness unbroken.” Realizing that it is of no use to him, he tries to rid himself of it but the alcohol’s fire has already “burned into (his) bosom’s core.” He is unable to rid himself of this demon and being unable to jilt it out of his life, this knowledge taunts him and the alcohol still remains there . It continues to connect itself to him and only seems to gain a deeper hold on him the more he tries to fight it. In the end he finds his soul trapped under the shadowed influence of alcohol with the feeling that its oppression “shall be lifted–nevermore.”
The response that Poe gives to the raven, and alcohol, never changes but its meaning changes with what the partaker asks or assumes of it. Starting his initiation with alcohol, simplicity is there making the response gathered from alcohol seem soothing but as wanting it becomes more complex and almost a need, real comfort becomes the goal of consumption. What is needed to be drawn from it in order to sustain that comfort becomes distorted and although the narrator begins to realize this, he continues to look to it anyways and becomes dependant upon it for the answers to his sorrow. When he is able to see that there is no real comfort from it and understand that the answers he finds in it are lies, he has already relied on it so much that the alcohol, which was at first suspected to be just a “visitor,” now has a hold over him and has weakened him so that his resolve to rid himself of it becomes more difficult.
Freud defines a coping mechanism as an unconscious way of attempting to protect ourselves from those things which plague us. As in the narrator’s case in The Raven, when we feel we cannot deal with these things on our own and instead look to an outside inhibitor, althoughit can be initially satisfying, ultimately it acts as an additional tormentor that we will get no comfort from and that can instead trap us with a new set of grief.