The Fall of the House of Usher

Darkness and deception can also be a form of romanticism.  The short story “The Fall of the House of Usher,” by Edgar Allen Poe, illustrates how the background of the story can influence the writing.  The obscurity of time and place concerning romanticism is the main point in Poe’s piece.  Romanticism is Part of the gothic tale Poe creates inspires terror with the clever omission of certain details pertaining to the characters in the story that could allow for a broader picture of what the story is about.  The story is set in a tone that is very gloomy, dark, and threatening, which the narrator notices as he approaches the house for the first time, typical of a gothic tale.  In part, the vagueness of the story brings in a sense of mystery and illusion that the narrator feels.

When the narrator first appears at the house of Usher, it is due to a summons from Roderick Usher, an old friend of the narrator.  The first part of the short story is describing the great expanse and gloominess of the forgotten house: “I had so worked upon my imagination as really to believe that about the mansion and domain there hung an atmosphere peculiar to themselves and their immediate vicinity-an atmosphere which had no affinity with the air of heaven, but which had reeked up from the decayed trees, and the gray wall, and the silent tarn” (710).  The narrator has a sense of foreboding about the dark, rundown place, like there is something not right about the house itself.  The feeling pervading the house is one of a spiritual aura that the narrator does not, at this time, want to accept since he sees himself to be a very logical, down to earth type of person.  The narrator finally gets to the house and has to go through twists and turns just to get to the place where Roderick Usher is residing.  The house is full of dark places to hide and where all of the secrets of the family are kept.  The building is symbolic of the fact that it is literally the house of Usher, whereas the bloodlines of Madeline and Roderick are also considered the house of Usher.  The narrator even feels a sense of something as he looks upon the house, “I know not how it was-but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit” (708).  The building has been like a sort of protection for the Usher family through their own state of sickness within the family.  The Usher family’s incestrial tendencies caused inherited sickness and contributed to the decline in the health of the family.  The house itself kept all of the family’s so-called secrets within the house.  When the house fell, just as the last remaining heir of the Usher household had died, it is symbolic for the end of the Usher’s as a whole.

The ignorance of the narrator towards Roderick’s family and life is expressed throughout the story, “Although, as boys, we had been even intimate associates, yet I really knew little of my friend.  His reserve had always been excessive and habitual” (709).  Roderick had always had a standoffish personality, but that did not stop the friendship between him and the narrator.  The narrator knows very little about his friend even though they were supposedly very close when they were younger.  The narrator had no idea Roderick even had a sister until he came to the house and saw her as he was sitting with Roderick.  The narrator does not know what he is getting himself into, “Roderick Usher, had been one of my boon companions in boyhood; but many years had elapsed since our last meeting.  A letter, however, had lately reached me in a distant part of the country” (709).  The author fails to inform of the age of either the narrator or of Roderick, leaving the reader’s perception of the characters slightly skewed.  Also, the country or area is not explicitly stated, leaving the era to any time in history while creating a narration that might be able to fit with any generation.  This disconnection with what is happening helps to contribute to the unawareness of the narrator and his lack of understanding of what is happening around him.

The ignorance of the narrator is most expressively seen right after Madeline is buried.  The narrator finds out that Madeline and Roderick were twins and that the Usher bloodline was always kept within the family.  He finally realizes the connection, “A striking similitude between the brother and the sister now first arrested my attention; and Usher, divining, perhaps, my thoughts, murmured out some few words from which I learned that the deceased and himself had been twins, and that sympathies of a scarcely intelligible nature had always existed between them” (717).  This passage characterizes the relationship between Roderick and Madeline as one of a union that should not be broken.  The narrator’s ignorance of the situation also reaffirms the fact that the house in itself is harboring the Usher family and protecting them and their secrets from the outside world; the narrator is invading that private space.

Upon coming to the house, the narrator learns of his friend’s mental state and how much it has affected both of the two last remaining heirs in the Usher bloodline.  The house protected this “sickness” within its walls, “I learned, moreover, at intervals, and through broken and equivocal hints, another singular feature of his mental condition.  He was enchained by certain superstitious impressions in regard to the dwelling which he tenanted, and whence, for many years, he had never ventured forth”  (712).  While Roderick is sick in his body, Madeline is sick in her mind.  Poe experiments with the fact that the two biological siblings are separated and deals with the separate aspects of a whole person set into two people.  Roderick represents body whereas Madeline represents mind, two parts of a whole.  They need each other to survive because they are only halves of one whole, one cannot survive without the other.  This is blatantly seen at the end of the story when the end of both Madeline and Roderick end the house of Usher figuratively with their bloodline and literally as the house crumbles to the ground.  “From that chamber, and from that mansion, I fled aghast . . . and the deep and dank tarn at my feet closed sullenly and silently over the fragments of the “House of Usher” (721).  What the reader does not know at the time is that Madeline is still alive.

The phenomenon of being buried alive was also a frequent occurrence in Poe’s day and is represented when Roderick buries Madeline alive.  There is an ongoing struggle of the logical, rational human mind, and the base fears and worries that lurk deeper within oneself.  Roderick becomes a victim of this as his mental state turns to fear of the house and his surroundings: “I feel that the period will sooner or later arrive when I must abandon life and reason together, in some struggle with the grim phantasm, FEAR” (712).  Roderick’s fear is eventually realized at the end when he dies from fright of seeing his blood covered sister standing before him, who he thought was buried in the family crypt, and the house falls to the ground around him in a burning inferno.

The stubborn resistance of the narrator to accept that he is experiencing any sort of supernatural phenomenon is one of his faults in the story.  Throughout the short story, he is simply putting logical reasoning into things that he cannot explain; he does this to comfort to himself and possible to keep his own mental state, but on another level, the narrator is trying to comfort his friend and lessen the state of Roderick’s madness.  He is very skeptical throughout the story and maintains the same demeanor until the very end, as he attempts to explain every occurrence by some logical reasoning.

The very first time that the narrator looks upon the house of Usher, he has a feeling that there is something immensely wrong with the house.  He puts it off as seeming that the place is just run down and has not been taken care of properly throughout the years.  He does not see the deeper meaning of the house and the secrets that are held behind its walls.  He also dismisses all of what Roderick tell him to that of a disturbed mind and does not pay Roderick the attention he deserves concerning his fears about the future: “But, in his disordered fancy, the idea had assumed a more daring character, and trespassed, under certain conditions . . . the belief, however, was connected (as I have previously hinted) with the gray stones of the home of his forefathers” (716).  The narrator goes on to explain a time when there were flashing lights outside and the appearance of an unexplainable storm.  Roderick takes this in a different meaning to pertain to something that is about to happen, whereas the narrator simply just tells him that it is an electrical storm and has him read the “Mad Trist” of Sir Launcelot Canning.  As Roderick was reading the novel, both men began to hear strange noises and tried to dismiss them as nothing: “The sound, in itself, had nothing, surely, which should have interested or disturbed me.  I continued the story” (719).  Only after the continual reoccurrence of the noise did the narrator heed any of Roderick’s fears.

Only after witnessing the murder of Roderick does the narrator flee for his life and expect there is something other than logical reasoning that could explain what had happened.  He essentially can come to no reasonable explanation for the collapse of the house.  The narrator finally realizes that there was something more to the house and its occupants than he was led to believe.  There was a greater significance to the house as a whole, and with the end of the Usher line, it is over.

With the fall of the house of Usher, the line has ended.  With the omission of certain details concerning the story, the time and place happen to be irrelevant and the short story focuses more on the issue of the mystiques of the house and the mysticism concerning it and the family of Usher.  Poe sets up for the focus of the characters and what is happening to them in body and mind rather then any other aspect of the story.  The mystery and illusion is magnified with the omission of the details, and the story of the characters becomes more relevant to the plot and symbolism of the house as a whole.

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~ by wolfangel87 on January 31, 2011.

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