illustration of a dark, menacing cracked house with large, red eyes looking through the windows

The Fall of the House of Usher

by Edgar Allan Poe
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Critically analyze and identify the use of metaphors in "The Fall of the House of Usher."

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Edgar Allan Poe uses metaphors to great dramatic effect in his short story “The Fall of the House of Usher.” Let's look at some of these metaphors and see why they work so well in this tale.

As the narrator approaches the house, he is filled with gloom as he looks upon the structure with its “vacant eye-like windows.” This metaphor gives us a strong feeling of apprehension. The house appears to be dead, yet it fills the narrator with “an utter depression of soul” that he compares to the “after-dream of the reveller upon opium.” In other words, he has a dreamy sensation that is not pleasant but rather bleak and hopeless. His heart feels sick, he says. Already we are set up to expect something horrible to come out of this tale.

The narrator is going to visit the old friend who lives in this strange house, yet he is surprised by Roderick Usher's appearance. There is a “cadaverousness” in his complexion. He is as pale as a corpse. His hair is “web-like” and has a “wild gossamer texture” as it floats around his face. These metaphoric details help us picture Roderick. Roderick then describes his fear to his friend, calling it a “grim phantasm” that struggles with him constantly. The fear is like a ghost, haunting Roderick Usher.

More metaphors appear in the embedded poem, “The Haunted Palace,” including the “winged odour,” the “lute's well-tuned law,” and the “discordant melody.” These metaphors (and the poem itself) reflect the contrasts and coming horror in the larger story.

As the tale progresses, the narrator comments on the “wild ritual” of the work he and Roderick pursue together. There is something frantic about their studies even as they try to comfort themselves in familiar patterns. The story ends in the horror of the reappearance of Madeline, who has been buried alive. She throws open the door, which is described as having “ponderous and ebony jaws,” a metaphor to enhance the horror, and falls into the room on top of her brother. They both die of terror as the narrator flees the house beneath the “blood-red moon,” and the building collapses.

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