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The Fall of The House of Usher is a classical celebrated literal work of American author, Edgar Allan Poe. It is a horrific tale, which incorporates incest, sickness, evil, death and lunacy with a setting of an ancient desolate and decaying house of Usher. The story commences with the narrator arriving at a castle on an autumn evening. Roderick Usher inhabits the house with Madeline Usher. In a letter to the narrator, Roderick Usher had implored the narrator to pay him a visit. The narrator had honoured this invitation in visiting Roderick. The house’s walls are bleak and the grounds gloomy. A small lake encircles the mansion and reflects on its image. In the first paragraph that serves to build the story in the mind of the reader, he describes the decay that ominously permeates from the house of Usher. Voloshin postulates “Poe presents transcendental projects which threaten to proceed downward rather than upward” (pg. 19). It implies that even though the work is transcendental in meaning, but decaying in character.
Roderick Usher aptly illustrates this by remarking “suffered much from a morbid acuteness of the senses" while Madeline is afflicted with "a gradual wasting away of the person, and frequent although transient affections of a partially cataleptic character" (Poe 1465). Voloshin intimates that "Madeline matches her brother’s pallor, but her special mark is a faint blush when she is interred and blood on her garments when she emerges" (22). These characters in their portrayal are disintegrating instead of a rebirth.
It is the perfect use of gothic imagery and horrific happenings that illuminates the psychological element and abstract symbolism. Poe is remarkably effective in prose and while he obviously puts his effort into projecting some theme in his work, it is perhaps the skilful use of prose that is more remarkable than any of these. He uniquely engages the mind of the reader in this insidious journey through the carefully chosen words, and subjects him psychologically to anxiety and provokes into engagement with the narrators experience in this journey.
The narrators words, ‘unnerved’ by the sight of the house of Usher represents the connection between the conscious and physical, which in itself projects the Coleridgean dejection which effectively blends the psychological and physical cause (Voloshin 21). The Fall of the House of Usher is indeed a psychologically intense event. It requires the participation of the mind of the reader in the enactment of the scenes through the effective use of unity and intensity to bring out the intended effect.
The narrator beholds the mansion after arrival and the grounds again. There is an eerie atmosphere described as ‘pestilent, mystic vapour’ overhanging the scene. The building is in disrepair, the painting is discoloured and surprisingly, even though individual stones are crumbling, the building is apparently stable. After crossing the bridge the narrator is then ushered into the “studio of his master” and there he meets Usher, who is lying on the sofa. The narrator remarks that Usher had remarkably changed in appearance since the last time that he had encountered him and he looks sickly and pale. “He suffered much from a morbid acuteness of the senses… The most insipid food was alone endurable; he could wear only garments of certain texture; the odours of all flowers were oppressive; his eyes were tortured by even a faint light; and there were but peculiar sounds, and these from stringed instruments, which did not inspire him with horror.” This frightens the narrator, who is horrified at his own susceptibility to the departure from life for which every mortal being is wont to, at some juncture in their lifetime. “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”.
The source of all this gloom, whilst in part contributed by the environment is largely due to the worry on Usher contributed to by the failing health of his sister Madeline, who has been his companion. The narrator stays with Usher for a few days and through art and reading of books, he tries to infect him with some relief from his recent worries, but which he does not succeed at freeing him from these chords that bind him. Usher in painting depicts a tunnel with a low ceiling but which has some light rays radiating in it. In playing the guitar, he plays a mournful discordant ballad “The Haunted Palace”. After Madeline dies, Usher informs the narrator that she will be interred at a vault within the house for two weeks. These eerie happenings have a profound effect on the narrator who is unable to gather sleep due to nervousness and as though hearing from the ghosts, he hears “indefinite sounds” and as he responds to a knock on his door, Usher stands there lamp in hand. He looks like a corpse.
As they resign to read a romance "The Mad Trist" by Sir Launcelot Canning, the culmination of this horror arrives and the narrator seems to experience the words as read from the book. It occurs that Usher had heard rattling and movements in the coffin early on, but he had dared not speak about it. Madeline Usher resurrects, her garments stained by blood, fall on Roderick Usher, who dies. The narrator escapes from the house after which he notices a blood red moon illuminating over the building and ultimately the house of Usher collapses with the lake swallowing the remains of this house.
Roderick Usher is the central figure in this narrative (Kendall, 2008) and Poe disregards Madeline’s character in the narrative at first. She appears thrice in the narrative but with no mean significance and this D.H. Lawrence notably says "The exquisitely sensitive Roger, vibrating without resistance with his sister Madeline, more and more exquisitely, and gradually devouring her, sucking her life like a vampire in his anguish of extreme love. And she was asking to be sucked."
The narrator is used to expose the evil in the House of Usher. Remarkably, he feels the presence of supernatural evil. The tarn is “black and lurid” and in his mind too, he thinks of the societal regard of the Usher family and he remarks that it has “been noted, time out of mind, for a peculiar sensibility of temperament, displaying itself through long ages, in many works of exalted art, and manifested, of later, in repeated deeds of munificent yet unobtrusive charity”. Incest is also referred to in the text as the narrator puts it that “the very remarkable fact, that the stem of the Usher race had put forth, at no period, any enduring branch; in other words the entire family lay in the direct line of descent, and had always, with very trifling and very temporary variations so lain."
The theme of death in The Fall of the House of Usher may have been far and large influenced by Poe’s personal encounters with death. Peeples notes that the death of loved ones, especially women are prominent in his works. It is notable that his own mother passed on while Poe was two and his stepmother died in 1829, when Poe was twenty and his wife’s death must also have had a lot of impact and influence on his works (Wagenknecht 19). Poe struggled with troubles in life, for instance alcoholism, as well as his psychological stability was being questioned. His encounters with death do play a particularly significant and prominent role in his writing and especially in this short story.
Poe successfully achieves to indulge the mind of the reader in his grotesque terrifying story. This story is a twisted reality and even though there are many unfilled blanks in the mind of the reader the reader feels the urge to read on as the story develops. At the end of the story, in the mind of the reader lingers the question, whether the house actually does fall or did the author just use that as symbolism in his work. The prose is exceptional and the word choice is excellent, for instance this text from the story “During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher.”. The author also uses other imagery such as the narrator describes the landscape surrounding as having "...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 a pestilent and mystic vapor, dull, sluggish, faintly discernible, and leaden hued" (55). This is imagery, which Poe uses to output his horror to the mind of the reader.
In conclusion, the author of this short story has dwelt on the horror of death, intriguingly weaving it in the mind of the reader and subjecting the reader to a mind-gripping and nerve-wrecking session in reliving the events and experiencing the events and happenings in the House of Usher told by an unnamed narrator. Poe is exceptional in this work and although the style is more prominent than the themes, it nevertheless delivers the intended effect to the reader.