Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Roderick Usher, a madman. Excessively reserved in childhood and thereafter, Usher is the victim not only of his own introversion but also of the dry rot in his family, which because of inbreeding has long lacked the healthy infusion of vigorous blood from other families. His complexion is cadaverous, his eyes are lustrous, his nose is “of a delicate Hebrew model,” his chin is small and weak though finely molded, his forehead broad, and his hair soft and weblike. (The detailed description of Usher’s face and head in the story should be compared with the well-known portraits of Poe himself.) In manner Usher is inconsistent, shifting from excited or frantic vivacity to sullenness marked by dull, guttural talk like that of a drunkard or opium addict. It is evident to his visitor, both through his own observation and through what Usher tells him, that the wretched man is struggling desperately but vainly to conquer his fear of fear itself. His wide reading in his extensive library, his interest in many art objects, his playing the guitar and singing to its accompaniment, his attempts at conversation and friendly communication with his guest—all seem piteous efforts to hold on to his sanity. The battle is finally lost when Madeline, risen from her grave and entering through the doors of the guest’s apartment, falls upon Usher and bears him to the floor “a corpse, and a victim to the terrors he had anticipated.”
Madeline, his twin sister, a tall, white-robed, wraithlike woman who succumbs to catalepsy, is buried alive, escapes from her tomb, confronts her brother in her bloodstained cerements, and joins him in death.
The Narrator, Usher’s visitor and only personal friend. He is summoned to try to cheer up Usher but is himself made fearful and nervously excited by the gloomy, portentous atmosphere of the Usher home. Having witnessed the double deaths of Usher and Madeline, the narrator flees in terror and, looking back, sees the broken mansion fall into the tarn below.