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Edgar Allan Poe Fall of the House of Usher

Updated on July 2, 2013
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Plot / Structure

The initial situation in the plot is built around the narrator’s arrival, at the invitation of his friend Usher, at the creepy House of Usher. Much of this stage has to do with the house itself, rather than Usher or his sister. The narrator notes the house's gloomy atmosphere and seemingly supernatural spook. The element of conflict comes from the fact that Usher is sick and the narrator is supposed to help. The problem is that Usher’s illness is not only mysterious but potentially fatal. Suspense is created when usher predicts his own death from sheer fear.

The complication or twist in the plot is that usher’s sister Madeline is also sick. The old house too is sentient. Madeline’s illness is equally mysterious. Her death and burial prove to be additional sources of horror. Roderick Usher’s belief that his mansion is sentient adds to the supernatural aura in the plot.

The plot reaches its climax, when Roderick Usher sees Madeline appear in the doorway. The eerie sounds and superstitious feelings lead up to that moment. As Madeline comes to Usher, his prophesy about his own death comes true. He dies of fear.

The suspense in the plot frightens the narrator who runs away. His flight from the house of Usher is full of heart-thumping suspense. The story moves toward its denouement when the House of Usher falls. It breaks and sinks into the lake below. The House of the Usher falls along with the twins who bear the name. The bloodline and the house both end with the story. The House of Usher is totally gone with no trace of any evidence that it once stood there.

The Narrative Point of View

The unnamed narrator’s job is to narrate the story as he sees it. One does not know much about him. He is peripheral in some sense, but is critical to our understanding the story. He is the one who takes us on a tour of the House of Usher. One of the most interesting things this narrator does is to point out again and again that the strange happenings of the House of Usher are difficult to be portrayed. Some of his statements are presented below:
“…an influence whose supposititious force was conveyed in terms too shadowy here to be re-stated.” “I should fail in any attempt to convey an idea of the exact character of the studies, or of the occupations, in which he involved me.” “I would in vain endeavour to educe more than a small portion which should lie within the compass of merely written words.” “I lack words to express the full extent, or the earnest abandon of his persuasion.”

The narrator’s above utterances renders the story even more horrifying and bizarre. Readers find it scarier and crazier.

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Setting

The setting is a haunted mansion, called the House of Usher amidst dark and stormy nights. The mood and atmosphere in the setting is far more important than the actual place. The story is set in a really powerful atmosphere. The narrator adds that ‘there was an iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart.’ Landscape features of the ‘domain’ – the bleak walls, vacant eye-like windows and white trunks of decayed trees – all created an ‘utter depression of soul’. There was a short causeway to the house that the narrator rode on horse-back.

An ethereal glowing cloud and a dark and scary lake, not to mention the ominous fissure running down the centre of the mansion create the setting for the horror plot. Poe creates an equally scary setting inside the mansion, where the corridors, though filled with seemingly ordinary objects, seem to scream horror. The dank underground tomb is yet another of the masterfully-crafted mini-settings in The House of Usher’.

The physical setting of the story is as supernatural as its action and themes.

Style

The prose in this story is rhythmic and ornate. Its over-the-top, macabre language creates an atmosphere of ominous horror. Nearly poetic descriptions like “singularly dreary tract of country” abound. The sound effect, when read aloud, is very powerful. The last sentence, which reads “the deep and dark tarn at my feet closed sullenly and silently over the fragments of the ‘House of Usher’” produces a similar impact. Alliteration remains Poe’s favourite linguistic technique in the story.

The use of the word ‘deposited’ is another device that adds meaning to his prose. The word choice is so precise. He talks of Madeline’s burial as a deposit of ‘our mournful burden’. It’s a deposit; the lady comes back to take his twin brother with her.

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Characterization

The narrator comes across as an enigmatic character. His role is simply to narrate the story. We hardly know anything about him, except that he is a boyhood friend of Usher. In fact, he only exists in relation to the Ushers. Even that relationship is of an outsider.

When the narrator first arrives at the house, he notes the isolation and closed-off nature of the Ushers. Their bloodline has no branches. Ushers – the brother and his twin sister- never leave their house. Madeline is Roderick’s only companion.

The narrator is on the outside of whatever eerie relationship the Ushers' share. He is also on the outside of the eerie goings-on inside the house of Usher. When Madeline passes by, for instance, she doesn’t even acknowledge the narrator’s presence. When Madeline returns alive from her tomb, she again disregards the narrator. The narrator ends up watching the tale as it unfolds before his eyes and through him the reader is able to follow the fall of the House of Usher.

Roderick Usher

Roderick Usher is one of the two last descendants of the House of usher. He is unwell and appears to be suffering from some mental affliction. His overly-acute senses strengthen the sway of horror. His sister, who is cataleptic, is wasting away. Roderick is troubled by his own fear. He predicts that one day his affliction will kill him. His prophesy comes true as his twin sister returns from her death to take him along.

Roderick dies of fear as Madeline rushes upon him. He falls to the floor dead, too terrified to go on living. It could be due to some sort of extra-sensory bond. One wonders if Madeline comes back from her tomb to get even with her brother for burying her alive.

Roderick also shares a bond with his house. He tells the narrator that he thinks it is sentient or conscious. He feels that the house is largely responsible for his feeling of darkness and gloom. When Madeline dies, Roderick follows. Finally, Roderick falls dead to the ground and so does his house.

Madeline Usher

Madeline Usher is the twin sister of the other occupant of the House of the Ushers. She appears to be some kind of ghostly creature, who goes to grave and returns. The narrator rarely sees her. Probably she is not fully human in the first place.

Some commentators opine that Madeline and Roderick are two halves of the same person. As such, both die as a person cannot live divided into two pieces, much as the House of Usher cannot stand with that crack running down the middle. If one believes in the supernatural, perhaps it was a ghost of Madeline that takes a human form again. Or more probably, it was Roderick’s mental affliction that makes him claim that she is standing at the door.

Themes

“The Fall of the House of Usher” is the story of a sick man whose fears manifest through his supernatural, sentient family estate. His house is able to perceive things.

The story explores both physical and mental illness and the way such afflictions affect the people who are closest to those who are sick. The apparent ‘madness’ of the main character turns out to be the cause of truly supernatural events. His house perhaps is really haunted, and his sister really is back from the dead. The story explores a bizarre, self-isolating, and abnormal family whose very existence has become eerie and supernatural. The bond between the twin brother and sister characters is intense. Their bond transcends even death. Another interpretation is that the siblings are actually one person split in two; thus one is unable to survive without the other.

The overwhelming theme is one of causes and effect of fear. Isolation, desolate location and absence of friends and relatives plants fear in human mind that ultimately can ruin not only them but even their haunted habitat. Both the twin siblings die and, with that, the house fall apart and sinks. Material possessions turn irrelevant with one’s death.

You can read more of Edgar Allan Poe's short story analysis HERE!

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