Is duality considered a theme in the "Fall of the House of Usher"?Edgar Allan Poe

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

If duality is not a theme, it certainly is a motif in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher."  For, beginning with the double entendre of "House of Usher" as both the mansion and the Usher family, this duality motif is repeated with the twins Roderick and Madeline Usher and their dual genetic afflictions.  Adding to this motif is Poe's technique of what he termed arabesque as he repeats and loups the Ushers' bizarre traits with each other and with the house.

double entendre of the House of Usher

  • The mansion is personified has having "vacant eyelike window" which are not unlike Roderick's eyes which are "bent fixedly before him" and "the luminousness of his eye had utterly gone out."
  • As the condition of Roderick's health deteriorates, so, too, does that of the mansion.  For instance, the narrator describes the gloomy furniture and the "

tattered draperies, which, tortured into motion by the breath of a rising tempest, swayed fitfully to and fro upon the walls.

  • Likewise, Madeline dies and Roderick is tortured  and "a strong shudder [came] over his whole person."
  • Of course, after the twins are in their final death agonies, the mansion's "mighty walls rush asunder...[leaving] the fragments of the 'House of Usher.'

the twins Roderick and Madeline

  • Like his deceased sister, Roderick Usher is described as having

a cadaverousness of complexion; an eye large, liquid, and luminous beyond comparison;...and very pallid....

  • The narrator notices

A striking similitude between the brother and sister now first arrested my attention...from which I learned that the deceased and himself had...sympathies of a scarcely intelligible nature [that] always existed between them.


  • Throughout the story, Poe repeats his duality motif and loups the bizarre traits of the twins Roderick and Madeline with the strange happenings in the mansion. For, as he approaches the mansion of the Ushers, the narrator is overcome with an "iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart..."  So, too, does he sense with Roderick "sensations which oppressed me." Then, as the narrator regards the lady Madeline, he comments,

I regarded her with an utter astonisment not unmingled with dread--and yet I found it impossible to account for such feelings.  A sensation of stupor oppressed me...

  • Later, the narrator describes Madeline as having a stupor of kind,

A settled apathy, ...and frequent although transient ...affections of a partially cataleptical characters.

A most ingeniously woven plot and development of character, Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher" exhibits much duality as a prevailing motif.

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The Fall of the House of Usher

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