Analysis the Fall of the House of Usher

The Fall of the House of Usher Writing Style Rhythmic, Ornate Poe·s prose is known for being a tad

over-the-top, a bit melodramatically macabre. And indeed, ´Usherµ bears the marks of this authorial stamp. But before you condemn it for its theatricality, take a moment to admire its nearly-poetic rhetoric. Check out ´singularly dreary tract of countryµ in the first sentence. Read it out loud and notice the weight and length of the ´yµ·s in the first two words contrasted with the hard, cutting ´cµ·s of the second two. Or jump to the last sentence and read ´the DEEP and DARK tarn at my feet closed SULLENLY and SILENTLY over the fragments of the ¶House of Usher.·µ And there·s a cartload of rhetoric gems to be found in between. The ´Fall of the House of Usherµ is a short story containing many literary elements. The following are several examples of literary devices used with in the story. There is an obvious parallel between the title of the story and the family name. Families are often referred to as houses, or households, and there is the obvious literal home that the Usher family lives it. There are also two falls in the story, one being the last two family member of the Usher family die, and the storm also breaks apart the literal house. The physical house is a symbol of Rederick. The follow chart is a diagram of the symbolism: House Vacant Eye like Windows Bleak Walls Fungus on Wall ² wild Stones on house decaying, but house still there Looks older than actually Evil atmosphere around House ² no connection w/ heaven Rotting in Isolation ² no fresh air Cracked ²obvious Can·t Forget ² Very Shocking Rederick Luminous Eye gone out - vacant Pallid Dead like Skin Wild untamed Hair He·s loosing it, but still alive Looks older than actually Sees self as evil ² no connection w/ heaven Self-Imprisoned ² No outside air Roger·s Mental State- intolerable agitation of fear Can·t Forget ² Very Shocking

The Painting and the plot of the story also share similarities. The Vault in the painting is symbolic of Madeline·s coffin, they are both deep underground, and there is no way for light to get in yet it is still there. (In the painting we can still see the scene although without light that would be impossible, and Madeline is still alive (life being paralleled with light.)) The Song and Rederick also share parallels. Rederick·s story goes with the song, he use to be happy and smart, and then his mental sickness (hypochondria) took over rand he goes crazy/becomes strange. The sickness and evil can be seen as one. The Kingdom and his mind also share similarities in that before they were good, and presently they have become negative:

Analysis: The Fall of the House of Usher

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low and oppressive clouds are described. In the door a dragon screams and the iron door squeaks as Madeline leaves. There are three common interpretations to see the story: 1) the story shows what happens with Man falls from God. the mood and atmosphere in the setting is far more important than the facts of time and place. painting-related thoughts). Imagery. Nature is evil and angry and they destroy the house.µ one we actually recognize from the Roderick·s painting earlier in the text (make sure you check out ´Symbols. Several Dark and Stormy Nights (To be fair. where the corridors. this was probably less of a cliché when Poe wrote ´Usher. At the end the storm wakes them up and the narrator and the Usher are scared so they go to read.µ The dank underground tomb is yet another of the masterfully-crafted mini-settings in ´Usher.µ) Notice that we don·t know the geographical location nor a specific year when these events go down. and Roderick being the mental part. And it certainly is a powerful atmosphere that Poe creates. 2) the story shows the consequences of incest. not to mention the ominous fissure running down the center of the mansion. The fact is. He creates a different but equally scary setting inside the mansion. Madeline and Roderick also parallel as one person they come together Madeline being the physical sickness. Madeline and Usher. In the story the door was beaten down and there was wood splitting. Analysis: The Fall of the House of Usher Page 2 . The outside of the mansion is the first of many spooky settings Poe renders in his tale. and as Madeline is leave she stumps in the archway. though filled with seemingly ordinary objects. As the situation inside the house the weather/storm becomes progressively worse. You·ve got an ethereal glowing cloud and a dark and scary lake. Pathetic Fallacy is used as the narrator is approaching the house with the dark. Allegoryµ for some juicy. The Fall of the House of Usher Setting Where It All Goes Down Haunted Mansion. and finally in the end at the of the story the last paragraph is the climax of the storm and story. seem to scream ´YOU ARE IN A HORROR STORY.Good (Before) -Thought and reason use to rule his brain -The banners were his hair -Use to be Gentle Air -Nothing wrong with life -People saw as good -Singing Beautifully -Fine! OK! Person Negative (Now) -An evil thing hurts his mind -His Glory is gone -Song no longer harmonious -Become Bad -Evil laugh at end ² not good The Ethelred Story is also related to the plot of Madeline·s Escape. In the story the shield falls on the floor. wood was also split as Madeline escaped from her coffin. and 3) the story shows the victory of the irrational psyche ² when rational and irrational fight and one ultimately wins.

The house·s sentience is also a big deal ² the physical setting of the story is as supernatural as its action and themes. these fictional words he reads are prophetic. it·s the narrator·s place to take us on a tour of the Mansion de Fear. Observe: «an influence whose supposititious force was conveyed in terms too shadowy here to be re-stated. or of the occupations.The house itself is carefully crafted to heighten the mood and atmosphere of the story. One of the most interesting things this narrator does is insist. Allegory. feel just as trapped as Roderick. For all its easily identifiable Gothic elements. Imagery. which we discuss in ´What·s Up With the Title?µ First Person (Peripheral Narrator) The narrator is nameless. Poe renders his story even more horrifying. take his word for it ² what actually went down was worse. Analysis ´The Fall of the House of Usherµ possesses the quintessential -features of the Gothic tale: a haunted house. We·ll talk about this more in Symbols. even more bizarre. given that Usher foretells his own death. or the earnest abandon of his persuasion. Poe uses traditional Gothic elements such as inclement weather and a barren landscape. Whatever the narrator says was going on. (20) It·s almost like he·s trying to make a point here. that all attempts to accurately portray the weird happenings of the House of Usher are essentially futile. You might want to think about the implications of this given that the narrator at one point reads aloud to Usher from a book and that the fictional sounds are manifested in reality. and doubled personality. which suggests that his principal job is to narrate. Instead of standard narrative markers of place and time. the reader. We don·t know much about him. the narrator himself doesn·t leave until the story·s end ² which makes us. The fact that Usher hasn·t left the house in ages lends the tale a sense of claustrophobia. Here the narrator is insisting that words cannot describe reality« and yet the words he reads aloud to Usher come true! In fact. dreary landscape. (16) I would in vain endeavour to educe more than a small portion which should lie within the compass of merely written words. like the creepy tapestries and furnishings inside. This is similar to the way that Usher predicts his own death early in the narrator·s tale. Then there·s the fall of the house itself. over and over again. (12) I should fail in any attempt to convey an idea of the exact character of the studies. by claiming that it·s even scarier and crazier than it sounds in his story. We are alone with the narrator in this Analysis: The Fall of the House of Usher Page 3 . In fact. You might also want to think about the prophetic nature of narration in this text. We cannot say for sure where in the world or exactly when the story takes place. however. and our attention is drawn instead to the strangeness going down in the House of Usher. (16) I lack words to express the full extent. mysterious sickness. part of the terror of this story is its vagueness. in which he involved me.

Although he is Roderick·s most intimate boyhood friend. Poe creates a sensation of claustrophobia in this story.haunted space. Madeline is buried before she has actually died because her similarity to Roderick is like a coffin that holds her identity. The narrator. Poe employs the word ´houseµ metaphorically. reducing her to a shared figment Roderick·s and the narrator·s imaginations. Some scholars have argued that Madeline does not even exist. or character double. The tale highlights the Gothic feature of the doppelganger. Doubling spreads throughout the story. She completes this attack when she kills him at the end of the story. but he also describes a real house. the narrator apparently does not know much about him³like the basic fact that Roderick has a twin sister. She invests all of her identity in her body. Characters cannot move and act freely in the house because of its structure. Madeline stifles Roderick by preventing him from seeing himself as essentially different from her. The peasantry confuses the mansion with the family because the physical structure has effectively dictated the genetic patterns of the family. She thus counteracts Roderick·s weak. The narrator is mysteriously trapped by the lure of Roderick·s attraction. The cramped and confined setting of the burial tomb metaphorically spreads to the features of the characters. including the poems ´The Haunted Palaceµ and ´Mad Tristµ by Sir Launcelot Canning. Madeline possesses the power in the story. Both poems parallel and thus predict the plot line of ´The Fall of the House of Usher. almost superhuman at times. The family has no enduring branches. Because the twins are so similar. Not only does the narrator get trapped inside the mansion. Analysis: The Fall of the House of Usher Page 4 . Poe asks us to question the reasons both for Roderick·s decision to contact the narrator in this time of need and the bizarre tenacity of narrator·s response. first witnesses the mansion as a reflection in the tarn. so all genetic transmission has occurred incestuously within the domain of the house. The mirror image in the tarn doubles the house. and this realization occurs as the two men prepare to entomb Madeline. For example. The claustrophobia of the mansion affects the relations among characters. In spite of this disadvantage. and immobile disposition. Madeline also suffers from problems typical for women in -nineteenth--century literature. that abuts the front of the house. for example. so it assumes a monstrous character of its own³the Gothic mastermind that controls the fate of its inhabitants. or shallow pool. mirrors the simultaneous escape of Madeline from her tomb. as though Roderick·s obsession with these poems ushers their narratives into his own domain and brings them to life. but we learn also that this confinement describes the biological fate of the Usher family. and portrays doubling in inanimate structures and literary forms. creates confusion between the living things and inanimate objects by doubling the physical house of Usher with the genetic family line of the Usher family. he contrasts this standard form with a plot that is inexplicable.µ ´Mad Trist. and he cannot escape until the house of Usher collapses completely. which he refers to as the house of Usher. but upside down³an inversely symmetrical relationship that also characterizes the relationship between Roderick and Madeline. as when she breaks out of her tomb. and full of unexpected disruptions.µ which is about the forceful entrance of Ethelred into the dwelling of a hermit. whereas Roderick possesses the powers of intellect. The story begins without complete explanation of the narrator·s motives for arriving at the house of Usher. sudden. While Poe provides the recognizable building blocks of the Gothic tale. nervous. The story features numerous allusions to other works of literature. Poe. Poe composed them himself and then fictitiously attributed them to other sources. the narrator realizes late in the game that Roderick and Madeline are twins. But Madeline proves central to the symmetrical and claustrophobic logic of the tale. and neither we nor the -narrator know why. and this ambiguity sets the tone for a plot that continually blurs the real and the fantastic. ´Mad Tristµ spookily crosses literary borders. they cannot develop as free individuals.

but male/female. the puns that garnered him popularity in America·s magazines. the narrator unwittingly brings down the whole structure.The crossing of borders pertains vitally to the Gothic horror of the tale. By undermining this fear of the outside. the House of Usher declines. First.µ It could be that Madeline·s ghost is back to take vengeance on her brother for intentionally burying her alive. in the fictitious gravity of a medieval romance. It could be that she is a manifestation of Roderick·s fears. The narrator is the lone exception to the Ushers· fear of outsiders.µ Analysis: The Fall of the House of Usher Page 5 . Allegory You might have noticed a strange mingling of the fictional with the real in this story. can foresee the future. and this story amplifies his obsessive interest in naming. lustrous eye. though strangely playful crossing of a boundary transpires both in ´Mad Tristµ and during the climactic burial escape. Imagery. Another possibility is that Roderick actually causes these things to happen. and the presence of this outsider might be the factor that destroys the house. Madeline is back from the dead. In fact. along with the help of some magic pixie dust from his haunted mansion. and so one cannot live without the other. It could be that she and Roderick are really two halves of the same person. You·ve also got the inverted dichotomy between Madeline and Usher. but also to the act of crossing a threshold that brings the narrator into the perverse world of Roderick and Madeline. Reality and Art Symbolism. with his magic. He screams that the dead Madeline is standing at the door ² and so she is at the door. Imagery. which we talk about in ´Character Analysis. Doubling Symbolism. which in fact comes true at the end of the tale. There are several different ways to think about this reappearance. He sings about the decline of a house. A similar.µ or meeting. a fear that accentuates the claustrophobic nature of the tale. We know from Poe·s experience in the magazine industry that he was obsessed with codes and word games. not an honest-to-goodness ´ghost. ´Usherµ refers not only to the mansion and the family. alive/dead. of death. Roderick·s artistic creations have a definite connection with what happens to the House of Usher. when Madeline breaks out from death to meet her mad brother in a ´tryst. way back the beginning of the story Roderick declares that will die from fear. Roderick·s letter ushers the narrator into a world he does not know. Dichotomy means a division between two opposing things. Allegory We·ve seen that art mirrors reality in this story. One possibility is that Roderick. mental/physical (see ´Character Analysisµ). What·s Up With the Ending? Let·s talk about the freaky scene BEFORE the ending before we talk about the actual ending. Starting off the story is the inverted reflection of the House of Usher in the tarn that lies before the house. Poe thus buries. so that he is consumed by fear he manifests his fear in reality. twins. He knows these events will transpire and so he prophecies them aloud. He paints an underground tomb. but there are several other cases of ´doublingµ or ´reflectionµ going on. Madeline is entombed underground.

rather than Usher or his sister. it is not his own. As we discuss in ´What·s Up With the Title?µ. Recall that in ´What·s Up With the Epigraphµ we discuss the possibility that this entire work is fiction by the deranged mind of Roderick Usher. Analysis: The Fall of the House of Usher Page 6 . The phrase is used as though it belongs to someone else. they were part of Poe·s text. The Fall of the House of Usher Plot Analysis Most good stories start with a fundamental list of ingredients: the initial situation. From one perspective. climax. and supposed that it would be caused by fear. as opposed to genuine intention. and most of Poe·s stories are full of it. Initial Situation The narrator arrives at a creepy house« Much of this stage has to do with the house itself. and conclusion. The narrator notes the house's gloomy atmosphere and seemingly supernatural spook. ´THE HOUSE OF USHER. it could be ironic melodrama.µ and this will be painfully obvious. Why would he put these words in capitals and in quotes? Quotes generally indicate that you·re using someone else·s terminology rather than your own. Now onto the final line of the story.) Read any Poe story ² or just read ´Usher. denouement. there·s a sense of irony. and they·re definitely not easy to nail down. which Poe wrote like this: ´[«] and the deep and dank tarn at my feet closed sullenly and silently over the fragments of the ¶HOUSE OF USHER. suspense. movie-announcer voice booming. though we find this interpretation less likely given that Poe was really all about the theatricality. The text revealed that the peasants around the estate coined the name ´House of Usherµ to refer both to the mansion and to the family who owned it. then we can rationalize the formatting of these final few words. Either to Roderick Usher or to the narrator ² whoever you think composed the tale ² this phase belongs to someone else. and he uses quotes to indicate as much. we can·t tell you definitively. you might be missing the idiosyncrasy of the last line. If this is the case. What we mean is that the quotes emphasize the artificiality of this phrase. it adds a gravity and ominousness to the very definitive ending: just imagine a deep. or if you·ve got a less-than-accurate hard copy in your hands. conflict. If you·re reading ´Usherµ online. This is good evidence for the argument that Madeline is just a manifestation of his fears.Then you·ve got Roderick·s death.µ On the other hand. (Melodramatic means overly dramatic. As far as capitals go. Roderick·s literal fall to the floor is tantamount to the fall of the Usher bloodline. Remember that he predicted his death earlier in the text.·µ (42) Those are not our capitals. Great writers sometimes shake up the recipe and add some spice. and is accompanied by the physical fall of the house itself. complication.

What·s Up With the Epigraph? Epigraphs are like little appetizers to the great entrée of a story. Denouement The House of Usher Falls Man. the narrator is supposed to help. Complication Madeline and the house·s sentience Madeline complicates matters in that she provides another possible source for Roderick·s madness. Usher·s prophesies about his own death come true as he dies of fear.Conflict Usher is sick. Suspense The narrator flees the house We are as frightened as the narrator at this point. His flight from the house of Usher is full of heart-thumping suspense. this story is pretty much done. That Roderick thinks his mansion is sentient also adds to the growing list of supernatural superstitions dominating the plot. and they get us headed in the right direction. They illuminate important aspects of the story. and her death and burial are additional spook factors. With the demise of the physical house and the demise of the bloodline. we didn·t see that coming. Madeline appears in the doorway All those eerie sounds and superstitious feelings have been leading up to this moment. there·s not even any evidence that it once stood there. Analysis: The Fall of the House of Usher Page 7 . Her illness is equally mysterious. Climax Usher freaks out. This is FALLING ACTION taken quite literally. Usher·s illness is mysterious and potentially deadly. Suspense builds when he prophesizes his own death from sheer fear. Conclusion The silent waters of the tarn The House of Usher is totally gone.

µ the small fissure that the narrator sees upon first arrival foreshadows this fall. the House of Usher falls. but to the family as well. The title Analysis: The Fall of the House of Usher Page 8 . Accordingly. What·s Up With the Title? There are several levels on which we can interpret this title. we see one of Usher·s songs. One possibility. and it is indeed at this fissure that the House ultimately splits in two. or that they are two halves of the same person. the real and the fictional are often intertwined. but we don·t see a piece of his writing.Son coeur est un luth suspendu. We know there·s something wrong in the House of Usher. that is. into the tarn or pool of water in front of the house. Unless. But as we·ve seen in this text (check out Symbols. ² De Beranger Translation: "His/her heart is a poised lute. and one of his paintings. the mansion the narrator visits and the setting for the story. but Poe changed them to read "Son c ur" (his/her heart). an epigraph is the author·s opportunity to give a hint to his reader as to how to interpret the work. We can move on to the symbolic meaning of the title. Imagery. as the epigraph can refer to both Madeline and Roderick together. is that the epigraph is the work of the narrator. The narrator makes a point of telling us that the term ´The House of Usherµ refers no only to the estate. it resounds". what does the epigraph actually mean? These lines describe a heart so alone that it is poised and ready for touch. Recall the story·s theme of isolation as well as Roderick·s ´acuteness of the sensesµ and try running with that. we then have to ask to whom the lyrics refer. As we discuss in ´Symbols. Beranger·s lyrics actually read "Mon c ur" (my heart). If this is the case. and Allegory). and so sensitive that it will resound the moment it is. a song by French songwriter Pierre-Jean de Béranger. First is the actual. literally. and it could mean ´hisµ or ´herµ depending on the subject. as soon as it is touched. a (roughly speaking) contemporary of Poe·s. then. These lines are a quote from Le Refus. ´Sonµ is the possessive article in French. The first question to ask is. he and the narrator listen to music. then the gender-ambiguity is appropriate. if slightly harder-to-swallow interpretation is that Usher wrote the epigraph ² because Usher wrote the story. Anyway. At the end of the story. read books. Is the narrator referring to Roderick? Or to Madeline? If you believe the argument (as discussed in ´Character Analysisµ) that the twins share some sort of other-worldly connection. who wrote this epigraph? Typically. our subject is gender-ambiguous. Imagery. and Allegory. ´The House of Usherµ is that very fictional work we·re missing. In this case. Sitot qu'on le touche il resonne. What are we given throughout the entire story except example after example of Roderick·s eerie artistic creations? Together. physical House of Usher. and pore over artwork. Another interesting. the Usher bloodline.

µ) Analysis: The Fall of the House of Usher Page 9 . Edgar Allan Poe: A Study in Genius by Joseph Wood Krutch. This decline. Why do you think he chose to have a nameless. rather than Usher himself? (Of course. is foreshadowed in the text. and the House. Allegory. but the metaphorical fall of the Usher family. The pieces fit together just a little too neatly. basically filled with stock stereotypical characters you can find in all his stories. e. reminding us that we·re not in a realistic world here. The narrator revealed that Roderick and his sister were the last two alive in the family. We don·t get too much info about the narrator himself. Why do people like horror stories so much? (No.refers not just to the literal fall of the physical house. and the house as all being part of the same person (see ´Character Analysisµ where we discuss the theory that Roderick and Madeline share one soul). Imagery. and the house collapses all at the same time at the story·s conclusion. so when they die. You could think of the house as a third member of the Usher family: Roderick. as we posit in this guide. what effect does this have on the way we read the story? 3. It·s worth noting that Roderick·s death is yet another literal fall ² he and Madeline collapse to the ground together. Usher prophecies his own death to the narrator in exactly the manner it takes place: he believes he will die from fear. ´Usherµ is generally considered Poe·s best short story. you could argue that Usher really does tell the tale«in disguise.. See ´What·s Up With the Epigraphµ and ´Symbols. It·s probably no coincidence that Roderick literally falls. sane narrator tell this tale. too. Or you could think of Roderick. seriously«why?) 6. so dies the whole family. Questions 1. Poe·s narrators are often deranged murderers or crazy men«like Roderick Usher. the bloodline falls in the death of the twins. What makes it so worthy of such a title? 5. See. This contributes to the story·s fantastical nature.g. Madeline. Also remember Roderick·s insistence that the house is sentient ² there·s a stronger tie between the Usher family and the Usher mansion than we might expect. What instances of foreshadowing can you find in this tale? Start with the title« 4. Some scholars have criticized this story for being too typically Poe. symbols are tied to action a bit too strongly. Does this seem like a reasonable critique? 2. Madeline.

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