Explain how Poe succeeds in creating the Gothic effect in his story "The Fall of the House of Usher" through his use of tone and atmosphere.

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Let us first define what is tone and what is atmosphere.

Tone is a literary technique used by writers to show their inner attitude toward the subject matter , characters, and central themes of the story. As a reader, you are constantly exposed to the tone because authors inevitably have to employ it to make their point.

Atmosphere constitutes the immediate surroundings (not to be confused with "setting") that envelop each part of the plot. The physical surroundings where characters interact are essential to provoke in the reader the emotions that the author wishes to instill depending on the genre.

Now, let us move on to Gothicism. A genre that is traced as far back as the mid 1700's, Gothic Literature is a genre that stems out of Romanticism in that it shows reality for what it really is. However, as an alter-ego of Romanticism, Gothic literature had the purpose of intensifying the deep aspects of human emotion; this is why tone and atmosphere are so much more important to Gothicism than to other genres. This is because in Gothic literature has very specific traits:

  • nature versus man
  • inevitability of fate
  • nostalgia and sadness
  • isolation
  • perennial enigma
  • influence of the supernatural
  • death and loneliness
  • darkness and lack of clarity

This being said, the tone that Pie employs in "The Fall of the House of Usher" is successful because the reader knows the impression that the house causes on the main character: it is one of shock, uneasiness, disappointment, and disillusion. The Ushers had once grandiosity and wealth and, as if struck by a ray of back luck, now they are surrounded by genetic malformations, by the memory of what they were once, and by chaos.

I felt that I breathed an atmosphere of sorrow. An air of stern, deep, and irredeemable gloom hung over and pervaded all.

The atmosphere is equally despairing. Since atmosphere produces tone and tone accentuates the atmosphere, the two elements work together effectively. Notice how the main character starts off describing the surrounding world around as...

dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the they year., when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens...a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit

This same pattern of description follows until the end of the novel without deviation. This is because in Gothicism there is never going to be a chance for redemption: fate is inevitable. Gothicism is about spiraling down to despair, and not to become redeemed and move on. Hence, the intention is for the story to grow progressively more gloomy, and more chaotic until it reaches a dramatic and tragic ending.

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The Fall of the House of Usher

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